The Small Claims Court, understandably, does not have the resources to inquire when every party to a proceeding is available for a court appearance. Accordingly, it happens with fair frequency that one or both of the parties is unable to attend a scheduled date of settlement conference. If you find yourself in that situation, here is what you should do:
- Notify the other party that you aren’t available for the settlement conference, briefly describe your reason, and ask for an “adjournment on consent” (agreement of the other party to put the settlement conference over to another date). If you have a worthwhile reason, a lot of opposing parties would agree to adjourn, especially if it’s the first date that’s been scheduled and there hasn’t been a significant delay. Do not wait to bring up the fact that you can’t attend with the other party. Act as soon as you realize that you can’t make it. This can make it easier to get the other party to agree to an adjournment and will mean that the court can reschedule the date as quickly as possible.
- Be sure to ask the other party to confirm their consent to adjourn in writing. This is usually done by signing a consent form that must be filed with a court office at least several days before the conference. If the court is satisfied that both parties agree that the date should be changed, it will proceed to set another date and notify the parties by mail.
- If the other party doesn’t agree to adjourn the settlement conference, and there is still enough time left until the settlement conference (4 – 6 weeks), you can file a motion with the court, asking the judge for an order to reschedule the date of the settlement conference.
- If you can’t attend, but are able to have the settlement conference over the phone, you can ask the court for a telephone conference, and, if permitted, you’d dial in at the scheduled time and be present that way.
- If there isn’t much time until the settlement conference, or if you couldn’t attend because of an emergency, you can ask someone else to attend the settlement conference and ask for an adjournment right then. Keep in mind that in some such cases, the judge might ask you to pay some money in costs to the other party for their inconvenience of attending the settlement conference only to have it rescheduled. Usually, these costs are between $100 – $200, though these vary and are at the discretion of the judge. You may also retain a representative. Feel free to contact us if you find yourself in this situation.
In any event, be sure not to ignore the settlement conference altogether. If you fail to attend it once with no notice, there would likely be costs awarded against you and a new settlement conference would be scheduled. If you fail to attend another time, the court may strike your claim or defense, which would mean you cannot continue the process.