How Do I Schedule a Family Management Conference for Hearing?

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Once the Form 6 Reply to an Application About a Family Law Matter is received by the registry, the court will normally work with the parties to find a convenient date for a family management conference (FMC). The idea is that it's better to work with people's schedules to find a convenient time, rather than risk people being unavailable because a date was set without consultation. In certain registries there may be other requirements before the FMC can be held. For example, you may be required to take the Parenting After Separation course or the Parenting After Separation for Indigenous Families course. The registry will let you know what steps you have to take.

After the first FMC, additional FMCs may be scheduled, for example to monitor compliance with orders made at the first one, or to continue negotiations after the exchange of necessary information.

Understanding Family Management Conferences[edit]

The FMC is a special type of hearing in the Provincial Court involving the parties, their lawyers, and either a judge or a family justice manager. It is intended to explore the issues in a court proceeding with the hope of finding a way to settle all or part of the proceeding. FMCs are private and held off the record.

Prior to May 2021, the BC Provincial Court would hold first appearances where the parties would show up to court in front of other people for their first experience in court. The judge would have little time for them except to direct them to come back again for what used to be called a family case conference. This impersonal first encounter has now been done away with. The parties' first in-court meeting occurs in a FMC.

What can happen at a Family Management Conference[edit]

FMCs are designed to help the parties identify and resolve issues without the need for a formal hearing. At these conferences, the judge or family justice manager may encourage the parties to reach agreements on some or all issues. Affidavits can be a part of the FMC, if they are particularly long and contain lots of evidence the judge or family justice manager may not have had time to fully read them.

Procedural orders[edit]

FMCs are instrumental in narrowing down the contested substantive issues, where possible, and setting procedural orders that the court thinks will help move the case along efficiently and reduce unnecessary conflict. Some of these procedural orders are called case management orders, and these vary somewhat depending on whether a judge or family justice manager is running the FMC:

  • If the FMC is with a judge, the powers under Rule 62 of the Provincial Court Family Rules applies.
  • If the FMC is with a family justice manager, Rule 63 applies.

Another type of procedural order that the court may issue at an FMC are conduct orders under Part 10, Division 5 of the Family Law Act. Conduct orders are court directives in family law proceedings that manage the behaviour of parties and aid in resolving disputes. These orders serve to:

  • Encourage settlements and reduce the need for trial.
  • Manage behaviors that obstruct dispute resolution.
  • Prevent misuse of the court process.
  • Facilitate temporary arrangements until final decisions are made.

For instance, a conduct order might require parties to participate in dispute resolution, attend counseling, or follow specific communication guidelines to prevent conflict. The court can mandate payment for related expenses and enforce compliance with further orders, fines, or penalties if a party disobeys. Strategically, conduct orders can be instrumental in managing the legal process and safeguarding your interests throughout the resolution of your family law matter.

Substantive orders by consent[edit]

Aside from procedural orders, interim orders about substantive issues are achievable at an FMC if the court can get the parties to consent. These consent orders might relate to parental responsibilities, parenting time, contact with a child, child support, spousal support, and to a limited degree guardianship. Specific rules around consent orders can be found at Rule 52.

Practically speaking, a substantive order will only be made with consent at an FMC. Remember that these are informal hearings, and the judge or family justice manager is not there to force or impose a resolution. Exceptions might be if there is an urgent matter such as denied parenting time, safety concerns, or urgent medical decisions that need to be made for a child. Otherwise do not expect the FMC to result in substantive orders about contested issues. The court will probably schedule those issues for a future hearing date.

Use the FMC strategically[edit]

FMCs are a good opportunity, and people who prepare for them and take them seriously can really benefit from them. FMCs can be very helpful, especially if the judge is prepared to be pushy with the parties and their lawyers. It's fairly common for proceedings to settle at FMCs, and where a settlement is reached, the judge will make a consent order on the spot, at the end of the hearing.

More information[edit]

See Rules 35-37 of the Provincial Court Family Rules to learn more about how the FMC process works.

There is also good information about FMCs online, including:

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Matthew Ostrow, September 19, 2023.

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