Monday, February 13, 2012

What Should I Expect at My Divorce Pre-Trial Conference?

Many of our divorce clients wonder what will happen at the Pre-Trial Conference. Most divorce cases actually settle at or shortly after their Pre-Trial Conference, so it is important to understand what the process actually entails before it begins.

Prior to your court date for the Pre-Trial Conference, both parties and their respective attorneys, if any, will be required to meet in person at what is called a "four-way conference." The purpose of this is to encourage discussion about possible settlement prior to the Pre-Trial Conference, so that the process of resolving issues might have begun before the case gets in front of a judge.

There is no testimony at a Pre-Trial Conference. If represented by an attorney, parties will not generally be asked to speak, although some judges have been known to ask the parties a few questions directly.

Each party will be required to file with the court a memorandum summarizing the procedural history and positions on disputed issues. Different judges have different notices for a Pre-Trial Conference laying out the structure for their memorandums. Usually, it is a six- to ten-page document.

Both sides will have an oral argument in front of a judge, who will give his or her feedback on the disputed issues. The judge's response is usually framed as a range in which he or she is inclined to rule should each disputed issue be brought to trial.  Since we have an individual calendar system, unless the judge that hears the pre-trial retires or changes courts, it will be the same judge at trial.  This is an opportunity, therefore, to get feedback directly from the person who decide your case if you can't settle.

For example, if the parties cannot agree as to whether an inheritance to the husband shall be divided along with everything else, the husband and wife (or their respective attorneys) will each argue their respective positions. After reading the Pre-Trial Memorandum and listening to each side present their cases during oral argument, the judge will, during that hearing, provide feedback for how he or she would be inclined to rule should the facts as presented by the husband be proved at trial, and the same for the facts as presented by the wife. Once the parties hear what the range of results will be from the judge there is a more limited scope of options for settlement. Expectations are generally tempered accordingly, and, usually, negotiations pick up speed. Often, cases settle at or shortly after the Pre-Trial for this reason.

Should you have any questions about divorce, contact Attorney Jonathan R. Eaton, or call 508.655.5980 to schedule a one hour initial consultation.

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