OK, so you have now been through a great deal of the Howard County divorce process by the time your settlement conference is on the horizon.
You have been through the discovery process, perhaps had a pendente lite hearing, and most likely, you have already spent thousands of dollars on your Howard County divorce on issues such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, use and possession of a marital home and attorneys’ fees.
So, why would you want to settle your case now? There could be many good reasons. Only occasionally are litigants in the position that they are better off going to trial than settling, but it does happen.
You have likely already gone through a mediation process, and most likely, your divorce attorney has reached out to the attorney on the other side to seek either a partial or complete resolution, as well.
Let’s talk about the divorce settlement conference. They will occur at the Howard County Circuit Court courthouse in Ellicott City, the same place your trial will be held if you do not settle your divorce case.
Settlement conferences are held in a conference room with a retired judge. The judge does not make a decision. There are no witnesses or testimony. It is simply a conversation that involves both parties, both attorneys and a retired judge.
When I tell you that the retired judges have a great deal of experience in family law, I am not kidding. Typically, each of the settlement conferences that Howard County uses have at least fifteen years of experience, have tried thousands of divorce, child custody and family law cases, and most likely have heard hundreds, or perhaps thousands of divorce settlement conferences as well.
They will be prepared for all of you, and it is incredibly important for you to be equally prepared. In fact, when an attorney at SIEGELLAW attends a settlement conference with one of our clients, we are typically “trial ready,” in the sense that we are fully aware and prepared on all of the issues that will be raised at trial. That is the only way to fully discuss appropriate settlement options and alternatives.
Usually, a settlement conference begins with the settlement judge wanting to hear from the attorneys what the issues are, whether there have been settlement conversations and what each spouse’s positions are on each of the issues that have not already been resolved. The settlement judge will then work with each side and their attorney to see if the issues can be resolved.
While a typical settlement conference docket may have four to six cases per day, let me tell you that you should set your entire day aside. If the settlement judge believes you are making progress, the judge will keep everyone there to give settlement every opportunity. I have been in eight hour settlement conferences, and I have been in a settlement conference until 8:00 PM before.
You do whatever it takes, because this really is your last opportunity to gain peace and finality to your divorce case before starting the final push of preparing for your Howard County divorce trial.
Stay tuned for Part 7, the trial process.