What role does a judicial settlement conference play in divorce proceedings?Nearly every divorce case, at some point in time, is going to involve a settlement conference. A settlement conference can take the form of an informal meeting between the parties and their divorce attorneys, a mediation, or a more formal conference involving a judge (a “judicial settlement conference”).
What is a judicial settlement conference?The logistics of the judicial settlement conference will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, the judge who will actually try the case is the judge who conducts the settlement conference. In many large, urban court systems, cases are assigned for settlement conferences with one judge before the case is assigned out to another judge for trial. Sometimes the parties are involved in the settlement conference with the judge and sometimes only the attorneys are present, so as to facilitate frank conversation and avoid the posturing that often occurs when the parties are present. Regardless of the governing procedures in your jurisdiction, having a judge involved gives you the benefit of gleaning some insight from the court as to his or her view of the evidence and legal arguments in your divorce case; if your case is not resolved at the judicial settlement conference, this insight into the judge’s perspective may lead to more fruitful and productive settlement negotiations between you and your soon-to-be-former spouse.
What is the purpose of a judicial settlement conference?The purpose of a judicial settlement conference (of any settlement conference, really) is to avoid the cost of a trial – the cost in dollars, the cost in time, and the emotional toll on the parties that cannot be quantified in dollars and cents. The courtroom is often a foreboding and frightening place to be for any non-lawyer. Add to all this the fact that, in a trial, one person (the judge) makes decisions that will affect the entire family for the rest of their lives. A judicial settlement conference can give you some control over the outcome of your divorce and allow you to move forward knowing that you, and not a stranger, decided how life would proceed in a post-divorce world.
Keys to success
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
2. Take control of the settlement conference at the outset
3. Allow for some initial venting of feelings
4. Have a plan and follow it
5. Consider taking a break