Divorces do not always look the way they do in movies. In fact, most divorcing couples in California never see the inside of a courtroom. While some high-value, complex and contested divorces may need trials, most couples can settle matters without going to court. If you are one of them, you may settle your divorce case during a conference rather than a full-blown trial. A settlement conference can be faster and less costly than going to court. It can also give you control in the final terms of your divorce; during a trial, a judge will make the final decisions.
What to Expect During a Divorce Settlement Conference
A divorce settlement conference is not a court date. It is a chance for you and your spouse to sit down, review the issues involved in your case and work together toward a mutually beneficial solution. A voluntary conference is a settlement negotiation in a structured setting, with or without lawyers. It is up to you and your spouse whether to invite attorneys to the settlement conference. An attorney can help you express your concerns and protect your rights. If a judge orders a mandatory settlement conference, it may be in a courtroom with a judge or mediator acting as supervisor.
Mandatory settlement conferences are common in cases that otherwise will go to trial. They are a judge’s final effort to get a couple to compromise before having to take the case to court. If you do not believe a compromise is possible, a settlement conference may seem like a waste of time. It may surprise you, however, how much your spouse is willing to compromise to avoid going to court. Do your best to enter into a divorce settlement conference – either voluntary or involuntary – with an open mind and a willingness to compromise. A settlement could save you a great deal of time, stress and money.
The purposes of a divorce settlement conference are to encourage both parties to voice their concerns, get their disputes out in the air and come up with compromises. Having attorneys present can keep the conversation respectful, focused and heading toward a main, mutual goal. If you think you or your spouse cannot be civil, attorneys can facilitate a more productive conversation. A successful settlement will mean you and your spouse agree upon all the terms of the divorce. A judge will typically sign off on the agreement you and your spouse make during a settlement conference.
What if Divorce Settlement Fails?
If you and your spouse cannot agree on issues such as property division, child custody, parenting time, child support and spousal maintenance, a divorce settlement conference may fail. You and your spouse will then take the divorce case to court, forfeiting all control over its outcome. The judge presiding over your divorce case will listen to arguments and evidence from both sides, then give a final ruling on the terms of the divorce – including child custody. You may appeal the judge’s decision, but you will ultimately not have the last word over the terms of your divorce.
Do You Need to Hire a Lawyer?
It will generally be in your best interest for a divorce settlement conference to succeed. To optimize the odds of reaching a pretrial settlement, hire a lawyer to represent your side of the case. Rather than complicating things, a lawyer can get to the heart of the matter and facilitate honest, open conversations between you and your spouse.
First, you and your lawyer will prepare written statements describing the facts of your case. Then, all parties involved will read each person’s brief before proceeding with the settlement conference. You and your lawyer will list your demands and listen to your spouse’s in turn. Then, you and your spouse will try to work together to settle your divorce case without court intervention.