What is a divorce pretrial hearing? Here’s an explanation.
After filing for divorce, a pretrial divorce hearing or conference before the judge is necessary during a traditional divorce but can be avoided if your case is following collaborative law. Typically, this is an informal meeting that is used to urge you and your spouse to agree to a settlement before the court makes the decision on your behalf. It also gives a glimpse into how the judge will rule when the case goes to trial.
Pretrial hearings take place towards the end of the divorce process. You and your lawyer should have all the facts of the case such as the values of the assets, the extent of the marital debt and any other vital information to present to the judge.
Gathering this information may take several months though discovery methods such as interrogatories and subpoenas. You and your spouse must answer all questions under penalty of perjury.
Presenting the case
In some states, only the attorneys should appear before the judge for the pretrial divorce hearing while in others both spouses and their lawyers are allowed meet the judge.
The meeting takes place in the presiding judge’s chamber rather than the courtroom. The meeting is usually informal. Either the attorney or spouse explains what they would like the judge to order during the trial and why. The spouses may also be required to present discovery documentation to the judge stating the positions.
After going through the discovery documentation and listening to each side, the judge tells everyone how he would rule on the issue assuming no new information is introduced that would change the ruling.
After a pretrial hearing, spouses are well aware if going to trial is a wise decision or not.
For example, if one party is convinced that he or she should receive more than 50% share of the marital property and the judge states that he would not rule in their favor, spending money on trial will certainly not be worth it.
Most pretrial divorce hearings take place before the same judge who will preside the trial. Therefore, the pretrial opinion predicts how hi is likely to trial if the divorce goes to trial.
After giving his opinion, the judge leaves the spouse and their attorneys alone for some time.
If you and your spouse accept the judge’s opinion, the divorce can be completed at the pretrial hearing. This involves reading the terms of the agreement onto the record in the courtroom. A court reporter also takes everything down. The attorneys then write the terms into a decree and the judge signs it finalizing the divorce.
If you are not satisfied with the judge’s ruling, you do not have to settle at the pretrial divorce hearing. However, the judge assigns the trial date to ensure the case is resolved in the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, you can continue to negotiate with your spouse and settle before the trial date. Most judges begin the trial with yet another pretrial hearing, trying the last time to help conflicting couples reach an amicable agreement. If none is achieved, the case proceeds to court where the judge makes the final ruling.