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Case Assessment Conference

The Case Assessment Conference is specific to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) 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 FCFCA, and all parties to the court proceedings and/or their lawyers must attend. The FCFCA prefers that parties resolve matters without the need for the court to make a decision about the issues in dispute between the parties. The conference helps the parties identity what issues are in dispute and how the matter can be resolved for the court to be able to make a decision. For example if the dispute is about parenting arrangements, a family report may be needed, or if the dispute is about property matters then valuations may be needed.

What Needs To Be Done Before A Case Assessment Conference

If a Case Assessment Conference has been scheduled, 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 FCFCA is an Initiating Application, which sets out what that party wants. The respondent must file a response stating what they want.

If one of the parties wants an order about financial matters then a financial statement must also be filed with the court. Each party must also provide to the other copies of 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, they should know what needs to happen for them ascertain what they want;
  • Each party should 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.

What Happens During A Case Assessment Conference?

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. The registrar helps the parties to understand the consequences of any proposals made.

At the end, 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.

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:

  • 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.

This hearing is not privileged and what is said in the hearing can be used in court.

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. The registrar can make directions including:
    • Either or both parties to file further documents with the court;
    • Further documents to be provided by the parties by way of disclosure;
    • Expert reports to be carried out;
    • Parties attend dispute resolution such as mediation or a court-appointed conciliation conference.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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