Case Assessment Conference
The Case Assessment Conference is specific to the Family Court and is the first major event that parties attend when financial orders have been sought. It is conducted by a registrar (a court lawyer). The Conference provides an opportunity for the parties to reach an agreement, with the help of the registrar. If an agreement cannot be reached, the registrar will:
- Assess the main issues and facts of the case;
- Recommend, where appropriate, other services that may help settle the dispute (for example, further family dispute resolution or progression to a hearing), and
- Explain what will happen next in the Court process.
Parties’ lawyers also attend the Conference with their clients.
Purpose Of The Case Assessment Conference:
A Case Assessment Conference takes place before a Registrar of the Family Court and all parties to the court proceedings and/or their lawyers must attend. The Family Court prefers that parties resolve matters without the need for the Court to make a decision about the issues in dispute between the parties. The Case Assessment Conference with the asistance of the Registrar helps the parties to identity what issues are in dispute and how the matter can be resolved or the procedural steps that need to be taken for the Court to be able to make a decision. For example if the dispute is about parenting arrangements for children a family report may need to happen or if the dispute is about property matters then any valuations may need to be done.
What Needs To Be Done Before A Case Assessment Conference:
If a Case Assessment Conference has been scheduled by the Family Court to take place then a party to a relationship or a marriage must have filed documents to start court proceedings. The document filed to start court proceedings in the Family Court is an Initiating Application and this document sets out what that party wants and this party is referred to as the Applicant. The other party is referred to as the Respondent. The Respondent must file a Response to Initiating Application which is a document that sets out what the Respondent wants.
If one of the parties wants an order about financial matters then another document called a financial statement must also be filed with the court. In addition to the documents that need to be filed in financial matters, each party must provide to the other copies of relevant documents such as bank statements. This is known as disclosure.
Things To Do To Prepare For A Case Assessment Conference:
- Each party should know what they each want to resolve the matter;
- If a party does not know what they want then what needs to happen for them ascertain what they want;
- Each party to have discussed with their lawyer what is likely to happen at the conference in their matter;
- Know where to go for the conference and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the conference;
- Have a good night sleep.
Our Victorian family law team in Melbourne can provide expert advice in relation to starting or responding to Family Court proceedings and providing guidance about the Case Assessment Conference process.
What Happens During A Case Assessment Conference?
The Case Assessment Conference is conducted by a Registrar of the Family Court and is an opportunity to resolve the matter with the assistance of the Registar and each party’s lawyer. If the parties cannot resolve the matter then the Registrar will discuss how the matter can move forward. The Registrar can then make directions including the following:
- Either or both parties filing further documents with the court;
- Further documents to be provided by the parties by way of disclosure;
- Expert reports to be carried out;
- Requiring the parties to attend dispute resolution such as mediation or a court appointed conciliation conference.
The Case Assessment Conference lasts approximately one hour and involves three stages:
Stage 1: Assessment
The registrar conducting the Case Assessment Conference will:
- Explain their role and the purpose of the conference;
- Answer any questions;
- Ask about issues of family violence and if either person is concerned about negotiating directly with the other person;
- Allow each person to outline the issues and discuss the current barriers to an agreement.
The exact way this stage is run depends on the issues in the particular case. Some Conferences are held with both parties in the same room. Where there are concerns about family violence, or where either participant does not want to be in the same room as the other person, then the Conference may be conducted in separate rooms.
Stage 2: Negotiation
The Case Assessment Conference looks at areas of disagreement. The discussions concentrate on the facts and background issues. The registrar assists the parties to understand and think about the consequences of any proposals made, guiding them to see if a solution to the differences can be found.
At the end of the Case Assessment Conference, the registrar will:
- Summarise the progress made during the conference, and
- Make it clear what the next steps are, and what needs to be done to prepare for these.
The registrar will not force parties to make a final decision. Agreement is only reached with the consent of all the people involved. If an agreement cannot be reached, there are various options as to what happens next.
The settlement negotiations during the conference may be privileged. This means that what is said cannot be used in court later. However, the Procedural Hearing at the conclusion of the Case Assessment Conference is not privileged and what is said in the Hearing can be used in court.
Stage 3: The Procedural Hearing
The Procedural Hearing, conducted by the registrar, is usually held straight after the Case Assessment Conference. At the Procedural Hearing, either or both of the following may happen:
- Any agreement reached during the Case Assessment Conference may be made into legally binding orders of the Court; and/or
- Orders will be made setting out the next step in the Court process and what must be done to prepare for this.
What Can I Expect At The End Of The Case Assessment Conference?
At the end of the first court event, the parties may leave with:
- A temporary or final agreement (often in the form of orders) reached through negotiation and dispute resolution on the day, and/or
- Orders about the next steps in your case.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Taking the next step and contacting a family lawyer can be scary. Our lawyers will make you feel comfortable so you can talk about your situation. But first, ask yourself, Do I really need a lawyer?