Binding Pre-trial Conferences in Family Law Proceedings

In October, 2020 the Queen’s Bench Rules were amended to enable parties in Family law proceedings to participate in “Binding Pre-trial Conferences.”

For background, a typical Pre-trial Conference is intended to facilitate the resolution of a family law matter, or if that is not possible, to manage the action until the matter is set down for trial. A Pre-trial is essentially a mandatory mediation session with a judge, where parties can exchange settlement offers to try to resolve matters to avoid a trial.

The difference being with a Binding Pre-trial Conference, however, if a negotiated settlement is not reached, that the presiding judge may step in and make a binding decision for the parties. The practical result is that the parties are able to avoid a trial if they cannot agree on a resolution.  The judge may determine that they are unable to make a binding decision on all of the issues, for whatever reason, and may direct that those issue(s) be set for trial.

It is important for the parties to Binding Pre-trial Conferences to be aware of the risks of submitting to such a process, as there are no rights to appeal the decision of the judge, except with leave from the Binding Pre-trial Conference Judge on an application. This means a party asks the Judge who made the decision to overturn their own decision. In addition, the parties are required to agreed in advance of the Binding Pre-trial that they will not make any collateral attack on any determination or decision made by the presiding judge.  The result is that the Binding Pre-trial Judge has broad powers with no judicial oversight.

Practical Steps – How can my Family Law matter proceed to a Binding Pre-trial Conference?

To begin, in order for a family law matter to be eligible for a Binding Pre-trial Conference, both parties must agree upon the process.

If agreement is reached, to obtain a Binding Pre-trial Conference, the following steps must be completed:

  1. The parties must submit a Joint Request for Binding Pre-trial Conference (Family) in Form 4-21.3 to the Court; and
  2. The parties must enter a Binding Pre-trial Conference Agreement (Family) in Form 4.31 4B.

The Binding Pre-trial Conference Agreement (Family) identifies the issues to be resolved, those issues the parties wish to be directed to a Binding Pre-trial Conference, and acknowledgments respecting the choice of process. The parties in a family law matter may limit the scope of issues for the Judge to determine.

A party to a Binding Pre-trial Conference (Family) Agreement must receive independent legal advice, and a Certificate confirming same is to be appended to the Agreement.

Parties submit Binding Pre-trial Briefs detailing the issues, the law that relates to the issues, and summaries of the evidence they rely upon, including medical and expert reports, financial documents, etc. and may include a settlement proposal.

Unlike Pre-trial Briefs, which are due 10 days prior, a Binding Pre-trial Brief is due to be filed with the Court 15 days prior to the date scheduled for the Binding Pre-trial Conference.

Binding Pre-trial Judge

The parties are informed of the Judge assigned to conduct the Binding Pre-trial Conference 30 days before the Binding Pre-trial Conference.

How do I get out of a Binding Pre-trial Conference?

If a party should wish to withdraw from a Binding Pre-trial Conference, they may do so at any time up 10 days before the start of the Binding Pre-trial Conference by serving a Notice of Withdrawal From Binding Pre-trial Conference in Form 4-21.7.

If a party should change their mind less than 10 days before the Binding Pre-trial Conference is scheduled to begin, they need to seek leave of the Court to withdraw their consent.

If consent is withdrawn, the Binding Pre-trial Conference simply proceeds as a Pre-trial Conference and if the parties’ settlement efforts are unsuccessful, the matter would proceed to trial.

PROS/CONS

The pros of a Binding Pre-trial Conference primarily relate to efficiency and cost. It will undoubtedly be more efficient and cost effective to have all of your family law issues dealt with at a Binding Pre-trial Conference rather than having to wait and pay for an expensive trial, when it can still take months for a decision to be rendered.

However, agreeing to submit to a Binding Pre-trial Conference is not without risk. The risks involved with a Binding Pre-trial Conference include that the Court will not have the opportunity to hear all of the evidence you would otherwise present at a trial, prior to making its determination.

In addition, as noted above, there is no right to appeal the decision of the Binding Pre-trial judge. This is a significant limitation to the remedies typically available to parties when third party arbiters are involved in determining matters.

A Binding Pre-trial Conference could be a useful process for parties in family law proceedings. I recommend you seek legal advice in relation to your matter.

Contacting a Lawyer on this Subject

Siobhan Morgan’s primary practice area is family law. For more information on this subject, contact Siobhan at 1 306 933 1308.

The above is for general information only. Parties should always seek legal advice prior to taking action in specific situations. 

Can my child choose where they want to live?

The short answer is no. However, the wishes of children can be considered in determining parenting arrangements. As the Court does not want children to participate in family law disputes, this article briefly touches on how to put the wishes of a child before the Court for consideration. 

To begin, regardless of the age of the child, there is no law or legislative principle that the wishes of a child dictate the parenting arrangement.  (See M.L.S. v N.E.D., 2017 SKQB 183; Redstar v Akachuk, 2013 SKQB 223; and Kittelson-Schurr v Schurr, 2005 SKQB 90.)

However, a child’s wishes can be an important consideration in determining a parenting arrangement that serves their best interests.  The wishes of young children aged 11 and younger, are typically not taken into consideration by the Court. The Court is of the view that young children are not sufficiently emotionally or intellectually developed to articulate their true feelings.

Children are capable of forming their own views at 12 years of age, which Family Justice Services recognizes for the purposes of conducting a “Voices of the Child” report.

If a matter is proceeding to Court, either by a trial or an interim Chamber’s application, a “Voices of the Child” report can be of assistance in putting the wishes or desires before a judge for consideration.

A Voices of the Child report may be ordered by a judge at any stage of a family law proceeding and the reasons the Court orders Voices reports vary widely. For example, a Chamber Judge, may order a “Voices of the Child” report when conflicting affidavits about the “wishes” of teenage children have been presented. Voices of the Child reports are also ordered at Pre-trial Conference solely for the assistance of the trial judge, who is tasked with determining the parenting arrangement.

However, there is no automatic right to having a Voices of the Child report prepared.

In addition to the age requirement (child must be 12 years old or older), a party seeking to put forward their children’s wishes with respect to the parenting arrangement, must present evidence that leads the Court to conclude that a Voices report would be of assistance in determining the parenting arrangement in the child’s best interests.

If your child is above the age of 12 and has expressed views with respect to the parenting arrangement, a Voices of the Child report can be of assistance to the Court in determining a parenting arrangement.

In the right circumstances, your child’s wishes as expressed through a Voices Report can be the determining factor. In a recent Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench decision, the Court found that irrespective of both parents’ capabilities of caring for the children equally, that a child’s wish was the “most dominant factor” in considering whether the relocation was appropriate. In that case, the child expressed a wish to relocate with the mother. Given the assistance of the Voices of the Child report, the Court granted the mother’s request to relocate with the children (A.R. v R.R., 2016 SKQB 206).

The family law lawyers at Robertson Stromberg LLP can assist in obtaining a Voices of the Child report and your parenting needs more generally.

Lawyers Siobhan H Morgan