Basic Outline of Steps in the Separation/Divorce Court Process
Many people resolve their family law matters without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. That being said, sometimes the court process becomes necessary. If considering court a basic outline of the process is as follows:
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1. Firstly, there must be an originating claim, either:
- Application; or
- Motion to Change
2. Once the originating claim is served on the other party they have 30 days to respond to the Application or Motion to Change.
3. Mandatory Information Program (MIP): most often this must be attended by both parties (separately), in order to provide them with information concerning:
- The impact of separation on the children and parents involved
- Alternatives to going to court
- Legal issues
- The court process
- Available resources
4. First Appearance Date:
- The first court date is scheduled by the court staff. Both parties (and their counsel, if retained) meet with the court clerk, who ensures that all parties involved have been served with the relevant documents and the case is ready to go before a Judge. A case conference may be scheduled at this time in order for the case to move forward
5. Case Conference (must have at least one per case) and Settlement Conference:
- This is likely the first time you speak to a Judge about the issues in your case and all parties must be present, including the lawyers of the parties. The conference can be held in a courtroom, a conference room in the courthouse, or the Judge’s office. Once you arrive, you must acknowledge your name and court file number on the case event list.
- A case conference allows you to discuss the settling of your case, discuss the issues that cannot be resolved by the parties, decide whether or not all relevant information to the case has been released, and to set a date for the succeeding step(s) for the case.
- During a case conference, a Judge can order one or all parties to provide certain documents (for example: business income documentation), and to ask questions about evidence filed in court. In addition, the Judge can make an order for further procedural steps to be completed in the matter. A Judge may also suggest that both parties to use another form of resolution (for example: mediation).
- A settlement or trial management conferences are similar to case conferences since they have the purpose of clarifying and/or narrowing issues between the two parties concerning their case. The preparation steps are also similar.
- Materials (Conference Briefs) must always be filed with the court for each type of conference, but since all conferences are settlement orientated meetings the briefs themselves do not form part of the official court record (Continuing Record).
6. Motions: requesting the Judge make an order before, during, or after a trial/proceeding in order to make a temporary order which is valid until the next possible date to have one’s full case heard.
- Motions may concern custody, access, child support, spousal support, and disclosure.
- Motions may only be brought after the issues have been conferenced (likely at a case conference), unless urgent and there is a very specific test to meet the urgency requirement.
7. Trial Management Conference: in addition to acting as any other conference (an effort to resolve issues in the matter) the Trial Management Conferences may also be used to set up timelines and procedures for the trial.
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