Views from the Bench

Making the most of JCCs

Views from the Bench

Judicial Case Conferences (“JCCs”) are a mandatory first step in most family law proceedings in the Supreme Court and are intended to be the first court appearance for family law litigants. Much can be gained by taking advantage of the opportunity that JCCs provide. 

JCCs began as a pilot project in 2002 and are now a permanent feature of family law proceedings in this court. JCCs provide the parties with an opportunity to have frank and confidential discussions about the issues in dispute with the aim of streamlining the proceedings. Where matters cannot be resolved by way of consent orders, the court will make procedural orders, including setting deadlines, to ensure the action is resolved in a timely and cost-efficient manner. 

In order to make the best of the opportunity provided by JCCs, counsel should ensure that the necessary financial information is before the court, and that both they and their client are prepared to make some headway on the matters in dispute. Where the opposing party is self-represented, counsel should be prepared to assist in achieving resolution. 

Addressing these in turn, first, it goes without saying that financial statements must be filed in advance of the JCC. If child and spousal support are at issue, counsel should come equipped with support calculations, using DivorceMate or similar software, for a range of incomes indicated by the materials filed. Counsel should be prepared to explain what assumptions were used to arrive at the support figures on which their client relies.

Second, counsel should come prepared to accomplish something at the JCC. Counsel should have a sense as to what issues are appropriate for resolution, on an interim basis or otherwise, and what steps will be necessary to move the proceedings forward. Being prepared may include considering the best starting point for discussion, rather than going over background which may serve to dampen the parties’ motivation to settle. Counsel should consider preparing a JCC brief, but are reminded to keep it brief and to enhance its usefulness by providing it to the opposing counsel or party in advance, particularly if it includes an offer to settle. It is important to prepare your client as well. He or she may wish to address the judge or master directly and should be encouraged to be solution oriented rather than using the JCC to canvass historical grievances. Where the parties are unable to settle, counsel should be prepared to set a future court date before ending the JCC, whether it is for a follow-up JCC or a trial date. This ensures there is an end date in sight to motivate the parties to move forward, without impeding their ability to settle matters. Counsel should have their calendars available at the JCC to facilitate this booking process. 

Third, where one of the parties is self-represented, opposing counsel should be prepared to assist in furthering the settlement process. Ensure that copies of relevant materials are made available for the in-person litigant. Be prepared to direct him or her to resources and further assistance. This may be as simple as directing the litigant to online resources such as self-help guides by the Legal Services Society, which includes one for preparing for JCCs. Counsel may also wish to make in-person litigants aware of the VLC Supreme Court Family Order Picklist. The picklist can be used as a guide during the JCC for making orders and will allow for a more complete JCC Plan at the end of the conference.