Your divorce case has been going on months or longer. You and your spouse have met repeatedly with the judge in a series of compliance conferences to discuss your attempts to resolve your open issues in the divorce. Now the judge has scheduled one more conference – a pre-trial conference. What should you expect at this meeting?
The purpose of the pre-trial conference is for the court to determine what issues still remain to be litigated. As with previous conferences in the case, the judge will continue to urge the parties to come to an agreement regarding their divorce and avoid a trial. Courts have a preference for settlement, particularly for family law matters involving minor children because the parents will still have to deal with each other even after the divorce is finalized. Often times, parties are more satisfied with solutions they develop on their own, rather than imposed on them by a judge. Furthermore, litigation is more time-consuming and costly for the parties and the court system, so the judge wants to avoid it (as should the parties) if possible.
To help encourage settlement, the judge will set expectations about what may happen if the parties go to trial. He or she will not render a decision in the case but will indicate the likely result if the issues are litigated. For example, if the parties cannot agree on who gets a particular asset, the judge will probably order its sale and the proceeds divided. By reminding the parties that this will be the probable result, it may give them a reason to continue to discuss the matter so as to avoid both of them losing the item or bidding against each other and third parties if the item is sold. Also, parties may need to consider significant tax issues in the event an asset is ordered sold.
The pre-trial conference can occur as early as 9 months after filing of the divorce action. However, usually, it is closer to 12 months or longer. Ultimately, the court wants the case completed in 18 months or less. In many cases, that is what occurs. While delays can happen for various reasons, the purpose of the court’s rules and procedures, including the numerous conferences, is to keep the case moving forward so there is a final disposition in a reasonable amount of time. The parties can further speed up the process by being willing to negotiate and compromise when possible.
If you are considering divorce, contact us to discuss how we can help you achieve the best result in your case.