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What does it mean if a settlement conference has been scheduled?

October 3, 2017

As your divorce case heads through the courts, you might receive notice from your attorney that you’re going to have a settlement conference. You might wonder what this is and how you should prepare. A settlement conference isn’t your trial date, but it’s still an important meeting that can have a large impact on the result in your case.

What’s a settlement conference?

A settlement conference is a chance for the parties and their attorneys to sit face to face and talk about the issues of the case. It forces the parties to discuss the case and try to reach a resolution. A settlement conference is both an opportunity and an obligation to work on resolving the case without a judge conducting a trial.

The settlement conference usually happens in a courthouse. It may occur with the supervision of a judge, or you might just work back and forth with your attorneys. You might all be in the same room, or your attorneys might go back and forth. Your attorneys might also meet with the judge. How it works exactly is up to you, your attorneys and the judge.

Do I have to agree to a settlement at the settlement conference?

Even though a settlement conference is your opportunity to try to reach a resolution with the other side, you don’t have to accept a proposal in your settlement conference. You’re free to reject any offers the other side makes and go to trial. Your attorney can give you honest advice about what the court is likely to decide if your case goes to trial. That can help you make smart decisions about whether you should accept a settlement offer or proceed to a trial.

How do I make the most of my settlement conference?

Since a settlement conference is an opportunity to reach a resolution that’s acceptable to you, it’s important to do everything that you can to make your time worthwhile. The way to make the most of your settlement conference is to arrive fully prepared to talk about the issues of the case. You should work with your attorney before the settlement conference to make a clear picture of the issues in the case.

If the conference is about child custody issues, you should prioritize the issues that are the most important to you. You should know exactly what you want the custody arrangement to be and why. It’s also important to think through the things that are absolutes for you and things where you might be able to compromise. Working with your attorney before your conference date can help you create a plan that’s realistic.

When a settlement conference discusses property issues, you should create a complete list of every item that’s important for you to discuss. Again, it’s helpful to make a list of things you absolutely want to achieve and things that you can negotiate. Your attorney can help you handle the negotiations and form realistic expectations about what the outcome might be if you were to take your case to trial.

In the vast majority of cases, parties are able to reach a resolution before trial. That makes it worth your time to take the settlement conference seriously. If you reach a resolution, you sign it an then proceed to draft final documents. If you don’t resolve the case, it proceeds to trial.

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