While the title sounds like something John Grisham would write, I can assure it is nothing of the sort.
In fact, I will tell you right now, if you’re expecting intriguing characters with deep rooted unresolved issues, or cliff hangers, you won’t find it here.
The Conference I’m referring to is the Conciliation Conference, which is an initiative of the Family Court as a form of Alternate Dispute Resolution.
I think every now and then it’s important that people are aware of the various processes and steps in the Family Law process.
The Court may order a matter be set down for a Conciliation Conference after the first return date of a Form 1 Initiating Application being filed. More often than not a Conciliation Conference will be ordered where there is a very limited size asset pool i.e. usually under $300,000.00. However if you’re charming enough (and by charming I mean pretty good submissions i.e. costs of the parties, discreet issues etc…) you can ask that your matter be listed for a Conciliation Conference even if your asset pool is more than $300,000. However if the asset pool is somewhere around $2,000,000 the Court will more likely take the view that you can pay for a private Mediation.
A Conciliation Conference will usually go for about 1 hour to 1.5 hours and is before a Registrar of the Family Court. While the Registrar does not make any decisions or rulings that say a Judge or Magistrate has the power to do, he/she does have the ability to make Orders if the parties are able to resolve matters by consent and it fulfils the “ just and equitable requirement”.
About 7 or 14 days prior to the Conference (depending on the Orders made) the parties are required to file and serve Conciliation Conference Particulars, which is in effect a brief statement of each parties position and what they believe they are entitled to. The Particulars will usually cover a brief background of the matter, the assets and liabilities available for division, the financial and non-financial contributions made, any adjustments that need to be taken into consideration and their proposal for settlement.
This of course aids the Registrar as it gives the Registrar a broad view of what each party wants. Armed with these documents, the Registrar can then hopefully help facilitate the parties towards achieving a resolution, if it’s possible.
I write this blog not to give a boring and mundane explanation of this procedure (and my sincerest apologies if it has come off that way) but rather to inform everyone out there “on the line” to know that this is an extremely important part of the Family Law process.
This is one of the few times where the parties still have control of the process without leaving it in the hands of a Judge or Magistrate. Consequently it is important to maximise the Conference as best as possible. If your solicitor is telling you “oh don’t worry it’s not going to settle at the conference anyway” then you should question them as to why that is the case and not just accept it. If the parties are 90% apart than the possibilities of settlement might be difficult to achieve, but use it as an opportunity to at least narrow the issues, with the help of a Family Court Registrar, so that perhaps a settlement can occur soon thereafter.
If the matter does not settle at the Conciliation Conference then the Registrar will usually order that each party make a Division 10.1.2 Offer pursuant to the Family Law Rules. This Offer is to be treated as a genuine Offer to try and resolve matters.
Once again do not treat this Offer lightly. Consider it. Think about it. This could be an opportunity to resolve these issues without having to proceed to a Final Hearing and go through the whole court process.
I wish I could say that this is a wildly entertaining and thrill seeking blog like an actual John Grisham novel would be, but it isn’t. Let’s face it, its fact. And the fact is – the value of the Conference should not be underestimated and remember to MAKE THE MOST OUT OF IT.