Family Case Conferences in Provincial Court

Provincial Court

Court operations during COVID-19

Because of COVID-19, many conferences, hearings, and proceedings are being held by phone or videoconference at this time. For more information, see:

A Family Case Conference (FCC) is a private, informal one-hour meeting between:

  • you,
  • the other person involved in your case (the law calls them the other party),
  • a Provincial Court judge, and
  • your lawyers, if you have any.

At an FCC, the judge will help you try to sort out some or all of your issues. It's a good chance for you and your spouse to try to settle the issues affecting your children.

The judge might make suggestions about things you can do to sort out your issues, but you don't have to do what they suggest.

If you don't agree with what the judge is suggesting and think a different judge might make a different order, you can:

  • refuse to do what the judge at the FCC suggests, and
  • go to trial, where the judge might make an order that works better for you.

But remember: if you go to trial, the judge at the trial might make:

  • the same order as the judge at the FCC suggested, or
  • an order that you dislike even more than the one the judge at the FCC suggested.

Do you and your spouse have to go to an FCC?

The court rules say that a judge can order you to go to an FCC if you can't agree about:

  • guardianship,
  • parental responsibilities,
  • parenting time, or
  • contact with a child.

Sometimes the judge will also deal with other child or spousal support issues at an FCC.

The judge will usually order an FCC after your first appearance in court and before a trial.

You can also ask the judge to order an FCC if you want one. And if you've already had an FCC, you can ask for another one. (Ask at the court registry to find out how to do this.)

What happens at an FCC?

An FCC is more informal than a court hearing:

  • you'll sit around a table with your spouse, your lawyers (if you have any), and the judge;
  • you might be in a conference room or a courtroom;
  • you won't be expected to stand up; and
  • the judge won't be wearing their robes.

Even if you have a lawyer, the judge will want you to speak and to answer their questions. 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 and the other person on any issues you can't agree on;
  • make any orders that you and the other person agree to;
  • refer you to a family justice counsellor or child support officer;
  • give a non-binding opinion about what's likely to happen at a trial (that means it's the judge's opinion only, and it 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 procedural order or give any instruction they think is appropriate.

An FCC is confidential (private), so don't worry about other people finding out about your issues.

You'll have to go to a hearing if you and your spouse don't agree about an issue.

See our checklist for getting ready for an FCC.

Who else can go to an FCC?

A child or another person who isn't involved in the case needs the judge's or master's permission to go to an FCC.

What happens if one person doesn't show up for the FCC?

If you or your spouse don't show up, the judge or master can still do all the things listed above if they think that:

  • there are good enough reasons to go ahead, and
  • it's fair to do so even though one person isn't there.

Can you attend by phone?

If you want to have a telephone conference, ask the family registry. You can't always attend by phone.

What happens if you don't settle your case at the FCC?

If you can't agree at the FCC, the judge usually takes the next steps to move toward a hearing where a judge will make decisions about parenting and support.

Before you can have another court hearing, you have to do what the judge says if they order that:

  • you try mediation or another type of family dispute resolution, or
  • you or your child see a counsellor.

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.