Case Management: The Pros and ConsAre you involved in a high-conflict custody battle? Are you finding yourself in court frequently?

If so, you may already know that family court applications are typically heard first in what is called Morning Chambers, which in Calgary (Court of Queen’s Bench) occurs every weekday commencing at 10:00 a.m. Many matters are scheduled for each Chambers day and the order of matters heard is pursuant to a set list. This more often than not results in a lot of waiting around, when your application is contested by the other side. Each application is permitted a total of 20 minutes of argument (10 minutes per party), which prevents a lot of matters from being heard or fully heard and determined in this venue.

Final determination of issues and more substantive issues and changes (i.e. such as custody, matrimonial property division) are directed to what are called Domestic Specials (which can run anywhere from half day to multiple days and can be with or without oral testimony), or Trial.

However, often you will require what we call interim (as opposed to final) relief from the court in the days and months leading up to final determination at Domestic Special or Trial. There are many reasons why Chambers may not be the ideal forum for these interim court applications, including the degree of conflict involved, frequency of applications being filed by one party or both and time required to present an interim application to the court for determination.

One alternative to Chambers is Case Management. You have to apply, using the appropriate Case Management Request form, for your file to be considered for Case Management. Ultimately, the decision as to whether your file will be accepted into Case Management is discretionary. However, Case Management is mandatory for files with any of the following characteristics:

  • Where there are allegations of sexual abuse;
  • Where the matter has been scheduled for trial by jury;
  • Class actions.

Although mandatory, the Case Management Request Form still needs to be filled out and submitted.

Your file may be eligible for Case Management of any of the following characteristics are present:

  • High conflict;
  • Numerous court applications being filed;
  • Numerous parties;
  • Lengthy litigation without resolution;
  • Where a Justice recommends that your matter be directed to Case Management (with or without an order specifically stating so);
  • Where custody / parenting are in issue and experts (i.e. psychologists, social workers) have been enlisted by the court to complete assessments and prepare reports for use in the litigation (this could appear in your court order as a “Practice Note 7” or “Practice Note 8” assessment).

If you are considering requesting Case Management for your matter, you may wish to consider the benefits as well as the shortcomings:

PROS:

  • Your matter (all applications filed) are heard and determined by one assigned Justice, throughout the proceedings (the exception to that being in the case of illness or extended absence). One benefit to this is that you avoid having to bring each Justice up to speed with the history of your file, each time you are in court, saving time and promoting greater efficiency in managing your file;
  • Your assigned Case Management will have more familiarity with your file and its history than it is possible to provide to a Chambers Justice in the 10 minutes permitted for full argument on a given application, providing a more established context for that Justice’s decisions;
  • If you are being served with a high volume of unreasonable or unnecessary court applications, involving no or little urgency, Case Management allows you to avoid numerous and frequent appearances in Chambers, often a significant waste of your time;
  • Generally speaking, more time may be dedicated to each file on each application to the court in a Case Management meeting (which are typically anywhere from half hour to an hour or more). This allows for more issues to be discussed and resolved in one attendance than is possible in Chambers.

CONS:

  • As a result of one Justice being specifically assigned to your file, there is often delay in scheduling court appearances as there is a shortage of Justices in the Calgary jurisdiction in particular. That being said, a committee formed to revamp the Case Management system in Calgary has confirmed they are working towards assigning a back-up Justice for each Case Management Justice, which may assist somewhat with this problem;
  • Prior to appearing before your assigned Case Management Justice, you may (if at least one party is self-represented) be required to first attend meetings with Case Management counsel. While this is done in order to ensure first take care of preliminary procedural matters in order to ensure the Justice’s time is best utilized, this can lead to frustration where there is some delay in being permitted to appear before the Justice to request the relief you are seeking;
  • Once you are directed to Case Management, your assigned Case Management Justice hears any and all applications, until your file is removed (i.e. due to inactivity or final resolution). Serious urgency must be obvious if you wish to attend Chambers, rather than wait for your next case management meeting.

The Case Management system is becoming very popular, currently with upwards of 700 case management files in Calgary alone. The benefits are tangible in appropriate circumstances, and a committee is currently working on improving the efficiency and manageability of the Case Management system in Calgary & Edmonton. If any of the above are characteristic of your file, you may want to seriously consider applying. The Request for Case Management Form can be found here: https://albertacourts.ca/docs/default-source/Court-of-Queen’s-Bench/request-for-the-appointment-of-a-case-management-justice-under-the-alberta-rules-of-court—rules-4-12—4-15.pdf?sfvrsn=0