settlement conference

What to Expect at Your Mandatory Settlement Conference by Cassandra Hearn

The vast majority of divorce or family law cases are settled without a trial. There are many ways this may be done, ranging from a simple agreement between the spouses, to a multi-day collaborative divorce preceding involving attorneys and financial experts. In most family law cases, if no agreement has been reached, a judge will order the parties to attend a Mandatory Settlement Conference as a last stop before setting a trial. The conference is typically scheduled thirty days or more before the trial. Both parties and their lawyers are required to attend.


Before the conference, your lawyer will prepare a detailed brief. This brief will provide a summary of the issues, your position, and what relief you are asking from the court. The brief will also contain itemized financial information for purposes of property division, child support, custody and visitation, spousal support, attorney’s fees, and other issues your individual case may have. This brief will be submitted to the other spouse’s attorney as well as to the court-appointed mediator who will conduct the settlement conference. It is also required that your attorney will “meet and confer” with your spouse’s attorney before the conference to try to discuss any possible settlement arrangements.


The conference will be conducted by a special court-appointed judge “pro tem.”  This is an experienced attorney who practices family law and who has donated his or her time to the court to volunteer as a neutral. It will be up to the judge pro tem whether you and your spouse remain together or are separated during the settlement conference negotiations. Negotiations will include the law and how it applies to your case, your case’s weaknesses and strengths and also potential outcomes if you were to take the case to trial. Each party should take this opportunity to work hard to find terms that can be agreed upon as the only option left after the mandatory settlement conference is trial. The settlement conference will last one-half of a day, or less if settlement is reached, or the judge pro tem decides no settlement is possible.


If you are able to settle your issues, an agreement will be read into the court’s record, and a formal settlement agreement will drafted by your attorney after the hearing. A judge will later review the agreement and sign it, making it a binding order of the court. It is also possible to settle only some of the issues at the conference and proceed to trial only on the remaining disputes.


We have extensive experience with helping our clients navigate settlement conferences. Call us today at 619-800-0384 for a consultation and we can discuss your case and how to handle mandatory settlement conferences.