Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court
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A Family Case Conference (FCC) is a private, informal one-hour meeting between you, the other party, and a Provincial Court judge (and your lawyers if you have them). At an FCC, the judge will help you try to settle some or all of your issues. The judge can also make court orders.
The court rules say that a judge can order you to attend an FCC if you can't agree about guardianship, parental responsibilities, parenting time, or contact with a child. Sometimes those are the only issues discussed at the FCC, but sometimes the judge will also deal with related child or spousal support issues.
The judge will usually order an FCC sometime after your first appearance in court, and before a trial. You can also ask the judge to order an FCC. (Go to the court registry to find out how.) An FCC is a good opportunity for both of you to try settling the issues affecting your children with the judge's help.
An FCC is more informal than a court hearing. You'll sit around a table with the other party, your lawyers (if you have them), and the judge. You may be in a conference room or a courtroom. You won't be expected to stand up, and the judge won't be wearing his or her robes. Even if you have a lawyer, the judge will want to hear directly from you. The judge will probably start by finding out what you agree on and what you don't agree on.
At the FCC, the judge or master can:
- mediate between you on any issues you can't agree on;
- decide any issues that don't require evidence;
- require you to participate in a family dispute resolution process, like mediation, with or without your agreement, and at your expense;
- require you or your child to go to counselling, with or without your agreement, and at your expense;
- make any orders that you agree to;
- refer you to a family justice counsellor or child support officer;
- give a non-binding opinion about the likely outcome of a trial (this is the judge's opinion only, that can't be legally enforced);
- reserve a trial date and a pre-trial conference date, if necessary, and, depending on the circumstances, make procedural orders to make sure the case will be ready for trial on that date; or
- make any order or give any direction that he or she thinks is appropriate.
What happens at an FCC is confidential. If the judge or master needs evidence to decide on an issue, you will have to go to a hearing. A FCC isn't the place to make decisions about substantial issues if the two of you don't agree.
Here is a checklist to help you prepare for an FCC.
A child or another person who isn't a party in the case may attend the FCC only with the judge's permission.
If one or more of the parties who were supposed to attend don't show up, the judge or master can still do all the things listed above if:
- he or she considers that the circumstances justify it, and
- it's fair to do so in the missing party's absence.
Telephone conferences are available, but you have to specially request one from the trial coordinator.
If you can't agree at the FCC, the judge usually takes the next steps to move toward a trial where a judge will make decisions about parenting and support. If the judge has ordered that you try mediation or another type of family dispute resolution, or that you or your child see a counsellor, that will have to happen before another court hearing.
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