Family Court in London Ontario – The Process
Proceedings in Family Court are commenced by the issuance of a document entitled “Application.” A responding party has 30 days in which to respond (after receiving the Application) with an “Answer”. (These are prescribed forms.) The case then proceeds to a case conference; then to a settlement conference; then to a trial management conference; and then to trial. Subject to Order of the court, each of these steps must be conducted.
Case conference. This is not a hearing of the issues. This is a meeting between the parties, the lawyers and a judge to discuss primarily procedural issues, including the obligation to disclose information and documentation between the parties.
Settlement conference. This is not a hearing. This is a meeting between the parties, the lawyers and a judge to discuss issues including what disclosure of information and documentation remains outstanding if any; what expert or other special evidence may be required for trial; and, most importantly, how the case may be settled.
Trial management conference. This is not a hearing. This is a final meeting before trial to ensure that the parties are ready for trial, to review what witnesses will be called for trial, to clarify the issues in the proceedings and to estimate the likely length of the trial.
Trial. At trial, the parties take the stand and give evidence through their testimony; other witnesses may give evidence; the lawyers make submissions on the law and how the law applies to the facts; and a judge makes a determination. Unless either party appeals the decision (which must typically be done within 30 days), the decision is final.
During the course of legal proceedings, with legal representation, a party is not typically required to speak or actively participate in court until trial, when live testimony is given.
Motions. Because it can take some months for a matter to reach the trial stage, with respect to urgent matters either existing at separation or arising during the course of the proceedings, a request may be brought to a judge (by way of a “motion”) in brief and summary fashion for temporary relief. For example, a request may be made (by motion) for temporary custody of the children, temporary access, temporary support, sale of a matrimonial home, etc. Motions are brought on the affidavit evidence of the parties. An “affidavit” is a written statement prepared in solemn form, as prescribed by the rules of court. Motions are heard most Wednesdays in London Family Court. The resultant temporary (or “interim” order), if obtained, would stand in place until a final (or subsequent) order is made in the proceedings.
Motion to Change. Distinguished from a motion for a temporary order, a Motion to Change may be brought by a person for an order to change:
1. a final order previously made by the court; or
2. the child support provisions contained in a separation agreement.
A Motion to Change is not an appeal. It may only be brought where a material change in the parties’ circumstances has arisen since the date of the last order. In the case of child support, it may be brought where either party’s income has changed, or the custodial arrangements have altered.
Settlement discussions. The commencement of Family Court proceedings does not end the efforts to settle the issues arising on separation. Indeed, they often spark more sincere negotiations. Most cases are settled. A case can be settled in a Separation Agreement. A case can be settled at any stage of the court proceedings.
Photo: Brian Turner: Flickr Creative Commons License. Cropped; changed to black and white.