Status And Pretrial Conferences
If the spouses are unable to achieve agreements to all the fundamental parts of divorce, trial preparation comes into play. The subsequent stage in this procedure is reserving and attending a status conference with the court. When settlement negotiations cannot proceed due to the lack of agreements, this meeting will shape the suit going forward and allow the divorce process to progress towards resolution. Nonetheless, it is critical to recall that just because negotiations have fizzled proceeding this point does not imply that the spouses will not achieve an understanding before the trial. Achieving an agreement regarding the property division, support obligations, and child custody can be done all the way up to the day of the trial.
If the parties cannot reach agreements on all the necessary aspects of divorce, the case will need to be prepared for trial. However, it is important to remember that just because negotiations have failed prior to this point does not mean that the parties won’t reach an agreement before trial.
A status conference allows the parties to update the court on what has occurred following the filing or the parties’ last appearance in court. The court will learn about any agreements that are in place as well as any concerns that cannot be agreed upon. For instance, the parties may have reached an agreement regarding property division, but concerns about child custody may remain. The court will consider the issues that remain unsolved and explore the likelihood of an agreement in the future. The court will examine resolution tactics outside of a trial, like mediation. If the court decides on an alternative dispute resolution, it will set dates for the parties to adhere to.
A discovery plan can also be founded at a status conference. This incorporates setting any vital restrictions on discovery, for example, discussing subjects that are deemed outside the scope of the case. Examples of issues that may be outside the limits of the case may include affairs or relationships post-divorce. In any case, there are exemptions to this rule contingent upon the specifics of a case. Due dates for finishing discovery can be set at a status conference. After this date, any extra disclosure demands from either spouse might be allowed if the parties come to agreement or by leave of the court. Otherwise, after the due date has passed, neither party will need to answer discovery requests from the opposing side.
The last concern to be considered in a status conference is overall scheduling. In addition to setting dates for mediation and discovery, the court will also set a deadline for any motions or amendments. Lastly, the court will establish a pretrial conference and trial date. To aid in the trial preparation process, these dates are typically unchanged. The purpose of this is to ensure everything is resolved in a timely fashion. However, they are adjusted occasionally at the court’s discretion.
Status conferences are vital to setting up a course of events for the rest of the litigation, but this does not mean that the court will hold a status conference immediately. Rather, the court allows a period of time for the parties to “cool off” before the initial status conference is set (it is common to have upwards of three conferences before a case is concluded). This period will be no less than 60 days, however it is probably going to be longer relying upon how full the court’s docket is. Good attorneys can use this period to encourage settlement or assemble data in preparation of a trial.
The pretrial conference is often the last hearing held in a case before final trial. At this point, several attempts at reaching agreements will have likely been tried, but will have failed. The issues that need to be resolved at trial will likely have been substantially narrowed, even beyond what they were at the last status conference. The judge will want to know and attempt to address those issues that are still left unresolved in order to understand what will need to be resolved at trial. This, in turn, allows the court and the parties to assess how long the final trial will need to scheduled for. Though it depends on the number of issues left to be resolved, divorce trials generally will not exceed one to two days absent exigent circumstances.
The court will also perform any “housekeeping” functions to prepare for trial. Any outstanding motions will be addressed, though perhaps not decided. For example, motions in limine, which deal with likely evidentiary issues, may be heard and considered. However, the judge is likely to not make a decision until the evidence is actually attempted to be admitted at trial. By reviewing the motions and becoming familiar with the law, the judge can make an informed decision when the dispute does arise, rather than having to shoot from the hip during trial. Any other last-minute issues or problems will also be dealt with at this conference.
The goal for both the attorneys and the court at a pretrial conference should be to ensure only the still-undecided issues are dealt with at trial. Judges can quickly grow impatient when one side attempts to stir up already decided or non-controversial issues during a pretrial conference. Instead, experienced counsel can use the pretrial conference to show the judge that he or she has prepared for the matter and is ready to quickly resolve only the need facts. The less “fluff” left in the case, the more attention the attorneys and the court can give to what really matters in resolving the divorce.
The objective for both the lawyers and the court at a pretrial conference is make sure that only unresolved concerns are presented at trial. Judges can rapidly develop impatience when a party brings up concerns that have already been resolved during this conference. A knowledgeable attorney will use this conference to display his or her preparation for a fast resolution.