Most people have a good general idea of what a trial involves. There are various other hearings before trial in divorce cases (as there are in most cases), however, and many people have little or no idea what to expect at them. This is not an exhaustive list, merely a general discussion of some of the more common pretrial hearings.
The earliest such hearing is usually a scheduling conference, sometimes called a status conference. It is what its name suggests – a conference for the purpose of scheduling a trial date and dates for other, related hearings and deadlines. A scheduling conference is likely to be set up after a response to the petition is filed. Courts need to know how long a trial the parties think they will need – usually one or two trial days but sometimes longer – should the case not settle. The attorneys and their clients are called in to report that information. Judges generally also use the occasion to get a preliminary idea of the issues of the case, to find out if settlement discussions have begun, and to issue various other orders such as for mediation.
Most judges hold a similar hearing closer to trial, usually called a pretrial conference. It is frequently an opportunity for either side to raise specific issues that may need to be addressed before trial. It gives the court an opportunity to find out how likely the case is to settle or proceed to trial. The pretrial conference usually also provides an opportunity to learn something about any other cases that are scheduled for trial the same day and which have not settled. If by the trial day there is more than one case that has not settled, the judge will pick one to go to trial and continue the other or others to another day.
Between the scheduling conference and the pretrial conference, there may be a temporary orders hearing if the custody of minor children and/or child support is at issue. These hearings are now usually decided on the basis of written statements rather than testimony. There may also be hearings dealing with discovery disputes, for example, over whether certain questions have to be answered and whether certain documents have to be produced. Some cases will generate motions (and therefore hearings on them) on various other issues specific to the particular case.
This blog, like all other blogs, should be treated as a general discussion and not as legal advice for any specific situation.