What is a Settlement Conference and What Should I Expect?
What is a Settlement Conference?: A settlement conference is basically just a meeting with a judge. It is done for the sole purpose of trying to settle the issues in your case to try to avoid having to go to trial.
Where are a Settlement Conferences held?: Settlement conferences are usually held in a conference room at the courthouse, they are not held in a courtroom, usually.
Who attends a Settlement Conference?: Settlement Conferences are attended by each party and their attorneys, and a judge. The judge present at the settlement conference will not be the same judge that is assigned to your current case, but a different, non-affiliated judge.
Prior to attending the settlement conference, you can either choose for the meeting to be held with all individuals in the same room or choose to have separate rooms. This obviously depends on the nature of the case and the relationship you have with your spouse, however I prefer to have my clients choose a separate room. I’ve noticed, that doing so generally gives my clients less stress, ability to freely communicate their wishes and desires, and not feel like they have to be burdened or forced into saying something that they really don’t want to say. They’re free to express what they want and how they feel.
Your attorney will begin the settlement conference by letting the judge know what your demands are, issue by issue. The judge will then present those demands to the other side and come back with their opposition, their counter and what they want. It generally ends up being a back and forth, back and forth, discussion of every issue involved in your case. Dependent on the complexity of your case and the arguments at hand, a settlement conference can last between a half a day to a full day.
The role of the judge is to be a facilitator, to go back and forth. They will talk sensibly to the parties and help them come to a resolution, if possible. A lot of the time, the parties don’t know what to expect legally. They have expectations of what they want, but do not usually know what’s realistic and what’s not. Therefore, it’s really a good idea to have a senior judge in your settlement conference because as a judge, they have a similar understanding to that of your presiding judge in your case. They can help to explain how your judge will rule based on the law and based on precedent. As a judge they have more of an insight into that than the attorneys might.
It’s generally always a good idea to do a settlement conference, it can save you a lot of time, it can save you a lot of money, it can also save you the stress and anxiety and the cost of going to trial. For those reasons, I strongly recommend it. While, it is a good idea, I do want to tell you that you are in no way obligated to come to a settlement at that conference. You want to, of course, go there in good faith and try to come to settlement and try to settle your case, but you are not obligated to do so. That is the most important take away. Go with an open mind, go in good faith, but you are not obligated to come to a settlement at that conference.
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