The Dispute Resolution Program (DRO) program is available in certain locations of the Superior Court of Justice, Family Court, including London, Toronto, Brampton, Milton, Newmarket, Hamilton, Barrie, Durham, and St. Catharines.
Family law Case Conferences
All family law cases, if they follow the usual progress of a Court case, start with a Case Conference. A Case Conference is an important step in a family law matter because it is the first opportunity to present your case to the Court and obtain the Courts’ view on your matter. It is also an opportunity to test the strength and weaknesses of your case, to obtain disclosure, etc. If you are in London (Middlesex), then the document used to start your matter will demine if your Case Conference is before a Judge or a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO). If you commenced or are responding to an Application your Case Conference will be before a Judge. If you have brought a Motion to Change a final Order or Separation Agreement, or are responding to a Motion to Change, then your Case Conference will be before a DRO.
Motions to Change
Motions to Change are brought when a party wants to change a final Order or Agreement. Some typical issues for options to Change include situations where you are seeking more child support because the support payor’s income has increased. Or you may be seeking to reduce the support you pay because your income has decreased. You may wish to change the parenting schedule that was previously Ordered. Or you may be seeking to terminate child or spoused support. The first Court date for Motions to Change will be a Case Conferences before a DRO.
What is a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO)?
Dispute Resolution Officers (DROs) are senior family law lawyers with more than ten years of family law experience who are appointed by the Ministry of Attorney General to hear Case Conferences in Motions to Change. The DRO is an impartial third party who has knowledge and experience in family law matters. The DRO will assist in identifying or narrowing the issues for the parties, explore settlement options, determine what disclosure is necessary to move your matter forward, etc. The goal during the Case Conference is for the parties to agree on some or all the outstanding issues without the need to proceed to a Motion or trial. The DRO does not have the authority to make Orders like the Judge, but they are able to assist the parties to come to a settlement of some if not all the issues during the Case Conference, which will be confirmed by a judge. If settlement is not reached the DRO will assist in resolving outstanding disclosure issues and scheduling the next step in the proceeding. Again the DRO cannot make Orders, but in completing the Case Conference they prepare a “Report” on behalf of the parties and any agreement reached by the parties will be confirmed by a Judge in an Order.
Here are some frequently asked questions and tips on how to maximize the opportunity at your Case Conference before a DRO:
- How do I prepare? If you are self-represented (attending without a lawyer) make sure to serve and file your Case Conference Brief in advance of the Conference. There are timelines for serving and filing the Brief set out by the Court that must be followed. Your Brief will contain a description of your matter that the DRO will review before your Conference so they will be in a better position to understand the issues and how to assist the parties. If you fail to file a brief you may find that your Case Conference will not proceed and has to be adjourned to a later date.
- Will the proceeding be recorded? Yes, understand that the DRO Case Conference is a formal Court proceeding. The Conference will be recorded and that recording will be retained by the Court. So be respectful to the DRO and to the other party and/or his or her lawyer, if they have retained a lawyer.
- Will I be required to talk? If you have retained a lawyer, the lawyer will address the DRO on your behalf. If questions are posed directly to you, you may answer. If you are self-represented you will have to address the DRO yourself. Wait for the DRO to ask you to present your side of the case. Do not take the Conference as an opportunity to vent at the other party and/or their counsel.
- Can I attend with family or friends? Do not expect to be able to bring your mother, father, brother, sister, friend, etc. with you. Conferences are not open to the public. If the DRO Case Conference is occurring virtually, via Zoom, you are not permitted to have friends, family or the children present in the room with you.
- Tip: Understand the relevant issues in your matter. Prepare organized notes that you can refer to. Organize your thoughts before the Conference and understand what your goals are. This is another reason why it is important to prepare for a Case Conference Brief because it gives you an opportunity to think about and organize your thoughts on the issues.
- Tip: Be prepared. Determine if there are any issues you and the opposing party agree upon, and what you do not agree upon. Your goal should be to ensure that you agree to any Orders that are necessary to get your matter resolved. Often this is a simple as consenting to an Order for necessary disclosure, which may include most recent pay statements showing year to date income earned, Income Tax Returns and Notices of Assessment.
- Tip: Listen to the guidance offered by the DRO during the Conference. They have many years of valuable experience and are trying to assist the parties in coming to a resolution when possible.
If your matter is at the DRO Case Conference stage and you require some legal advice or representation, please contact Andrea Cooley for a consultation. Andrea can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 519-660-7782.