A settlement conference is another option for spouses who want to negotiate a resolution and make their own decisions about their situation. Its purpose is to determine if the spouses can reach agreement on the issues themselves, with the help of a judge. It is a voluntary process, which means that both you and your spouse must agree to participate if you want a settlement conference to take place. A settlement conference requires the active participation of both spouses to find solutions that are acceptable to you both. Once you agree to go to a settlement conference, there are certain documents you must file. The court will tell you what needs to be filed.
Settlement conferences could be held in a board room or a courtroom, and involve both spouses, your lawyers (if applicable), and a judge. The judge participating in your settlement conference will not be the judge who will hear your trial, if your matter ends up going to court. Settlement conferences are not recorded (they are ‘off the record’) – this means that if you do not reach an agreement on any or all of the issues in your settlement conference, the discussions and negotiations that took place cannot be brought up or used against you in your court trial, and the judge presiding over your trial will not know what was discussed at the conference. If you do reach an agreement on any of the issues, only what was agreed to will be recorded. This is called ‘reading the agreement into the record’.
Settlement conferences are the only time throughout the court process when you can request a specific judge. Remember, though, the judge dealing with the rest of your case cannot be your settlement conference judge.
A settlement conference may be a good opportunity for you and your spouse to sort out your issues without having to go to a formal trial. If you do not reach an agreement during your settlement conference, the judge involved may still comment on the strengths and weaknesses of each spouse’s proposal, and may give an opinion on the likely outcome if the matter goes to a trial.
There is no court fee for a settlement conference, unless you hire a lawyer to help you prepare or attend with you. However, if you agree to go to a settlement conference, but show up unprepared or unwilling to negotiate, there could be costs awarded against you.
Remember: You can make the request to go to a settlement conference in the document ‘Request for Date Assignment Conference,’ or during the DAC itself. Otherwise, you must write a letter of request to the court.
Click here for more information about settlement conferences, including a list of filing requirements.