Stalled Family Law Dispute? A Private Settlement Conference Can Help!

Topic: Family Law May 14, 2020 by Jame Mookerjea & Josef Gallant

If court closures due to COVID-19 cancelled your settlement conference date, why not consider a private settlement conference?

On April 6, 2020, the Superior Court of Ontario, Family Law Branch released a practice direction encouraging the Ottawa Family Law Bar to take advantage of private settlement conferences and making them more accessible for cases that are stalled because of COVID-19. Under normal circumstances, Rule 17(9) of the Family Law Rules only permits a person “named by the appropriate senior judge” to conduct private settlement conferences.

This requirement has been lifted so that any lawyer in good standing who is certified as a family law specialist or who has practiced primarily family law for a minimum of 10 years can conduct private settlement conferences. This is a welcome adjustment to address the multitude of family law disputes stalled because of court closures.

Advantages of holding private settlement conferences include:

  • Scheduling flexibility: rather than accommodating the court schedule, parties can schedule their private settlement conference for a mutually agreeable time and date;
  • Expertise: the parties can handpick a lawyer offering to conduct private settlement conferences whose expertise fits their needs and nature of dispute;
  • Efficiency: When the courts eventually open, they will be dealing with a significant backlog of files. The more issues resolved outside of court the less of a burden the backlog will be, and you can avoid the uncertainty surrounding future court scheduling;
  • Process: Private settlement conferences allow parties to structure discussions and settlement options in a way that best suits their needs, including more time to review issues.

Our senior family lawyers, Mimi Marrello and Jim Jeffcott, are available to conduct private settlement conferences in French and English. Their expertise and experience situate them perfectly to help find creative ways to resolve your issues outside of court. Due to physical distancing requirements, the conferences would be conducted virtually using audio-visual communication technology that is agreeable to the parties. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about private settlement conferences or about how to set one up with one of our senior family lawyers.

In the coming weeks, we expect that the Court will continue to encourage family lawyers to take advantage of various alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) methods to help clients efficiently resolve their issues and ease the backlog the courts face once they reopen. Next, we will post another blog discussing available ADR methods and how to take advantage of them.

Please continue to check back with LMR for updates on how important legal issues are being impacted by COVID-19. In the meantime, we hope that everyone is taking appropriate steps to stay safe and healthy!