Court Procedure made simple
After you have received your notice for a first appearance in Provincial Family Court, the next step in a court process is to have a case conference with a judge. This is normally arranged at your first appearance in court.
A Family Case Conference (FCC) is a informal one-hour meeting with a Provincial Court judge and your ex. This is similar to a Judicial Case Conference (JCC) in Supreme Court which is more complicated because of the BC Supreme Court Rules. If either of you have lawyers, they also attend the FCC. The goal of the FCC is to help you reach agreement in relation to guardianship, Parental Responsibilities, Parenting/Contact time (Access), and child support. The hope is that the Judge will help you reach an agreement and avoid further court process.
Family Case Conferences are required in all cases accept those only involving Child support. A Judge will normally offer an FCC at your first appearance. Alternatively, it will be requested by one of the parties or their lawyers.
A Family Law Case Conference is a good opportunity to focus on the issues and resolve some if not all of the problems created by separation.
At the Family Case Conference, the Judge has a lot of latitude in making decisions. A judge will normally do one or more of the following:
- Identify which issues are in dispute;
- Mediate any issues in dispute;
- Advise you of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options, which may work, better for your family than a full trial;
- Make procedural orders, such as setting deadlines for financial disclosure;
- Refer you to Mediation and direct how this is paid for;
- Give a non-binding opinion about the probable outcome of a trial;
- Make any order or give any direction he or she considers appropriate; and
- As a last resort, set trial date.
The Judge can make orders at the Family Case Conference, but only if both parties agree to the orders. You cannot be forced to agree.
If progress is made, but a final agreement is not reached at the Family Case Conference, the Judge may adjourn the FCC so that you can come back on another day to try and reach a final agreement. You may not get the same judge at a second FCC, but you can ask for the Judge to seize themselves of the case, which means you will likely get the same Judge again.
The Family Case Conference is a very effective tool in addressing family conflict. The parties have a lot of input on how they think the process should work and there is greater flexibility than when an issue goes to full trial.
The most effective Family Case Conferences are those were the parties have come well prepared. Were lawyers are involved; the lawyer will draft a FCC Brief which will outline the issues and disputes. They will also outline what their clients are seeking and why. They will also prepare Financial Statement well in advance of the FCC.
For parties without lawyers, it is recommended that you prepare a Financial Statement and Brief. These can be difficult and must be in the proper form. It is often worth hiring a lawyer just to help you with this preparation and ensure that you are attending court properly prepared.
Michael Butterfield JD, C.Arb, C.Med
Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator