A Cautionary Tale About The Importance Of Preparing For Settlement Conferences
There are many things to consider when going through a divorce or separation, and many of those, such as spousal support, can have long-term impacts on those involved. It’s not uncommon for divorcing couples to enter into settlement conferences, designed to resolve outstanding issues more quickly and inexpensively than litigation. However, one party to a divorce recently discovered that settlement conferences can have unforeseen impacts on a divorce, meaning it is important to be ready to discuss all outstanding matters when a settlement conference takes place.
The settlement conference
The parties attended a settlement conference in October 2018. The settlement conference brief filed by the wife included a copy of the husband’s 2017 T4 as well as support calculations. The husband filed no material in relation to his income or to support. He sought an adjournment of the settlement conference, but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the wife’s counsel made submissions on spousal support and requested an interim order be made as a term of the adjournment. The conference judge did end up making an interim spousal support order.
The husband appealed the order, arguing the conference judge lacked authority to make a substantive order of spousal support at the settlement conference since he did so without a motion for spousal support or sworn evidence as to his income.
The court noted right away that a settlement conference didn’t actually occur. Instead, the time was spent on the adjournment and its terms. As such, the conference judge’s order is not a settlement conference order, but rather a term of an adjournment. The court noted that the conference judge has broad discretion as to the terms of the adjournment, particularly when one party is delinquent in financial disclosures.
The court pointed out that the order was made without prejudice, and that the husband’s counsel was given the opportunity to advise that the husband’s income was particularly high in 2017 (the year of the T4 provided by the wife) but they failed to do so.
The court found that the conference judge had properly exercised his discretion in setting the terms of adjournment, cautioning that making an order to the contrary should be something done sparingly by the court. The court also noted that the parties had spent a lot of time and energy on the matter, writing, “The parties have expended more than $40,000 fighting over an issue that will be sorted out and adjusted at trial. The order for spousal support was without prejudice. The economics of the appeal make no sense.”
To speak with an experienced Windsor family law lawyer about divorce and/or spousal support, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.