After one person has filed an Application About a Family Law Matter (Form 3) and the other person has filed a Reply to an Application About a Family Law Matter (Form 6), the registry will send you instructions on how to sign up for a family management conference (FMC).
An FMC is a hearing with you, the other person, a Provincial Court judge, and your lawyers (if you have them). You can have a support person with you, like a family member, friend, or advocate.
The point of the FMC is to try to settle any parenting, support, or other family law issues without going to court for a full hearing. It's an important meeting, so take it seriously. The judge can make interim and final orders that could affect your life in big ways. And it might be hard to get them changed later.
If no final agreement is reached during the FMC, and you have to have a hearing, an FMC can help get you ready for your hearing or trial by clarifying the issues.
You might only have 20 minutes with the judge, so it's important to give lots of detail and to be as clear as possible when you fill in:
- Form 3, if you're the person starting the case, or
- Form 6, if you've been served with a Form 3.
There won’t be a lot of time to give the judge background information when you go to your FMC, so your forms are the best place to give the judge all the information they need.
What orders can the judge make?
At an FMC the judge can make interim or final orders, depending on the issue. These orders can be about:
- Parenting responsibilities, parenting time, contact, child support, spousal support, and guardianship;
- Case management for next steps including, for example:
- financial disclosure,
- dispute resolution, or
- making changes to how documents can be served on each person; and
- Conduct (tells a person if they can or can't do certain things).
The judge can also schedule court appearances and order:
- consensual dispute resolution,
- another FMC,
- a family settlement conference,
- a trial preparation conference, or
- a hearing or a trial.
What do you need to do before an FMC?
At an FMC, the judge will have all the documents you've already filed. This can include a brief affidavit with the facts that support what you’re asking for. The judge will use all your filed documents plus your submissions and oral evidence (what you say at the FMC) to make orders.
However, if you have other evidence you think might be useful, you can email it to the registry to give to the judge before the conference. Evidence can be paper documents, photographs, objects, etc. The judge can use this evidence when making the order. If you’re asking for several orders, it’s a good idea to email a list of them to the judge, too.
If your parenting plan is complicated, you can write it down and email it as well. For example, if you're asking for an order about parenting time, set out a realistic and workable schedule, get an opinion on it (consider asking friends or family as well), and then set it out and email it ahead of time.
If you think you’ll likely go to trial, you can also email a list of the witnesses you would have.
What do you need to have at an FMC?
If you're not having a lawyer or duty counsel at the FMC, think about having a support person.
You’ll also want to write down everything you plan to say to the judge (just like a script) and have it with you during the FMC (see the next section).
How to prepare for a family management conference
You’ll want to be ready to possibly resolve your issues. Think about what the best outcome would be for yourself and, if children are involved, what would be in their best interests.
Write down the things you and the other party agree on. You can ask the judge to make a “consent order” about those things.
Otherwise, you must be ready to tell the judge exactly what you want and why. See this picklist for the type of orders the judge makes. Talk to family duty counsel or a lawyer (or a legal clinic or legal advocate) about the orders you want, to check that they're reasonable and allowed under the Family Law Act. They can also advise you about the evidence you need. Family duty counsel are a free service. You may be able to arrange to have duty counsel appear at the conference with you.
It’s also a good idea to speak to a trusted and open-minded friend about what you’re asking for in court. Their input could be helpful.
Then, plan to take some time to write down exactly what you want to say about the order(s) you want. You can practise reading it out loud. Then you can take this “script” to the FMC. It's okay if you simply read it to the judge. See Preparing a script for a family management conference.
Print our FMC checklist and use it to make sure you've done all the steps to prepare.
A few days before your FMC, read all the documents that you and the other party have filed. Don't wait until the last minute.
At the conference
Here are some tips to help you for the day of your FMC.
- Plan ahead to have the whole day free, for example, by booking off work or arranging child care.
- Wear clean, neat clothing (you don't need to "dress up" or wear a suit).
Listen politely to everyone at the conference. Never interrupt the judge. Speak respectfully to everyone and stick to your script. Always stay calm, serious, and polite (don't roll your eyes, for example). You can try to watch the judge's expression for clues about how you're doing.
Take a break and speak to your support person (or lawyer, if you have one) before you agree to anything.
- If you don't find a way to ask the judge not to make orders, they might make orders without hearing your side of the story. If you're feeling too scared or stressed to speak, ask for a break to talk to duty counsel or your lawyer. Say, "I have important information to share but I'm feeling too scared and overwhelmed to tell my side of the story. Can I please have a break to talk to my lawyer?"
- If you don't have a lawyer at the conference or you still feel too stressed to share your information, tell the judge, "I am asking you to not make any orders today, and to order another FMC where I can bring a lawyer. I have important information that you should know but I am not able to tell it to you today."
- may not seem friendly, just neutral
- will have your documents in front of them and may refer to them as you talk
- may interrupt you to ask for information while you're speaking
What happens if someone doesn't file a reply or show up for the FMC?
If the other person doesn't file a reply to an application or attend the FMC:
- the FMC can still go ahead with just one of you there, and
- the judge can still make interim orders.
The other person still has to obey the orders, even if they weren't there when they were made. But they can make an application to change any orders they don't agree with.
You might get the order you asked for at the conference, if:
- you and the other party agree, and you asked for a consent order
- the judge decides to make a temporary order that will last until your next appearance in court
The judge may also make a conduct order or case management order about next steps. The registry will draft the order(s) and send them to you.
If you don't get the order you asked for, the judge may order another court appearance or consensual dispute resolution, or counselling or other community resource.
Shaney learns how important it is to prepare for a family management conference, in our short illustrated story, A conference rehearsal.
You may want to read Settlement Smarts, a publication from The National Self-Represented Litigants Project.
Note that the publication is for those involved in both family matters and civil lawsuits.