Divorce and other family law proceedings can take any number of confusing twists and turns. One common step is a court appearance known as a settlement conference, sometimes referred to as a pre-trial conference. What is a settlement conference, and what should you expect?
The overarching purpose of a settlement conference is to identify in court where the parties agree and disagree, in hopes of avoiding a costly trial.
A settlement conference is overseen by a judge, but it is more informal than a trial. Both parties and their attorneys typically attend. Both parties’ attorneys present a case on behalf of their client, explaining and outlining the divorce situation for the judge. Ordinarily, the parties in the case are also required to attend. It is important to know that some judges will only meet with the attorneys in the judge’s chambers. Very few judges hold these conferences in open court.
As each case is presented, agreements and disputes between the parties will become clear-for example, custody, spousal maintenance, division of property, or other financial matters. The judge assigned to the case will listen and make settlement suggestions or orders to keep the case moving.
In a settlement conference, parties may make offers and counteroffers. If an agreement can be worked out, the attorneys will draft a document to that effect, which both parties review and sign.
Neither party is obliged to accept an offer during the settlement conference. However, if disagreements remain unresolved, the judge has a couple of options: recommend the couple and their attorneys continue to negotiate the terms and schedule another settlement conference, order mediation, or schedule a trial. At a trial, the judge will make the decision and issue a binding ruling.
A settlement conference, then, can be an opportunity to avoid an expensive, prolonged, and emotionally draining trial whose outcome you cannot control. Even if the first settlement conference doesn’t resolve all disagreements, continued negotiations often get results. Work closely with your attorney to present the best case for your interests in the settlement conference.
All of us here at Raza Family Law Solutions understand this is a challenging time for our clients. With over 20 years in family law, the attorneys at Raza Family Law Solutions will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions, or to schedule a confidential consultation, call 314-314-5505.