What to Expect at a Settlement Conference

The court process can be stressful at times.  This stress can be reduced if you have a good idea of what to expect during each step along the way.  A key part of any litigated family law case is a settlement conference.  Settlement conferences may also be referred to as ‘Case Management Conferences’ in St. Charles County or ‘Pre-Trial Conferences’ or ‘Status Conferences’ in St. Louis City.

A settlement conference is a meeting between the Judge and the attorneys.   Settlement conferences are required per local court rule and if one is not conducted, the case may be dismissed.  This meeting generally takes place in the Judge’s chambers, in private, and without the parties.  In some rare cases the judge will conduct a settlement conference in the courtroom.

During this meeting, the parties will sit separately, either in the courtroom or in the hallway outside of the courtroom.  Parties are generally not required to talk to each other unless they wish to.  Except in rare cases, neither party will meet the Judge at this conference.

At a settlement conference, the attorneys update the Judge on the status of settlement discussions and ask for feedback on outstanding issues.  Most judges will give some feedback with the intention of helping the parties work towards settlement. A settlement conference, by its nature, is an informal meeting designed to help move the parties toward a resolution.

A settlement conference is different from a trial or a hearing in that the Judge will not be making any decisions or entering any orders regarding a case at that time unless the parties can agree. When a party wishes for the judge to make a decision on an outstanding issue, a formal written request must generally be made and a hearing must be set on a different docket than that of the settlement conference, per local rules of the court.

Generally, unless an emergency situation arises, these formal requests would not be placed on a docket for a hearing until a settlement conference has occurred. The next steps following the conference will depend on the outcome of the discussions at the settlement conference.  These steps may include additional formal discovery (i.e. information gathering) and continued settlement negotiations.

The court, in an effort to continue to move cases forward, will most likely set a case for an additional settlement conference to review the status of the matter.  The court may also set a trial date, generally several months away (depending on the case) to allow time for settlement possibilities.  If a settlement is reached before the trial date, the judgment will be entered at a brief hearing and, generally, no trial will be necessary.

Be aware this is a general outline and every situation is unique.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.  This post should not be considered legal advice.

Communication During Litigation: Keeping Your Cool

Let’s face it – litigation can be stressful and heated.  Communication that was once routine may now prove difficult.  Yelling at your spouse when the kids come back a few minutes late (or minus some clothes you sent in the diaper bag), may offer temporary satisfaction, but before you do that, you may want to consider a few things…

First, while your intimate relationship is ending, your relationship as parents will continue for years to come.  In addition to the big events – graduations, ball games and recitals, the day-to-day parenting duties will remain.  You and your soon-to-be ex will need to work together to be sure teeth get brushed and homework gets finished in both homes.  It’s better for your kids to see a positive relationship even under negative circumstances.

Second, you should also be aware your communications could become part of the court process.  The judge may review communications (or lack thereof) and take that into account in deciding parenting time and decision making authority.

Finally, we all know that litigation can be expensive.  Heightened conflict requires more attorney involvement.

Communication during litigation should be brief, businesslike and deliberate – do not be reactive.  When you are angry, you may want to consider waiting a day to respond.  You may even want to contact your attorney.  Never assume your communications are private.  And remember, civil communication goes a long way towards keeping costs down.

Be aware every situation is unique.  This post should not be considered legal advice.  If you have questions about your individual situation, please contact an attorney.