Not all legal cases go directly to court. Some states require the involved parties to participate in a settlement conference before deciding to take a lawsuit to trial. A settlement conference is a type of hearing conducted by a judge to help parties settle a case before the hearing or trial.
Settlement conferences offer an excellent opportunity for the judge and lawyers to speak informally about the most important aspects of the case. Ideally, a case will be resolved through negotiations before the trial date is reached. A settlement conference may be recommended for a wide range of family law cases, such as martial dissolution and child custody matters.
Procedures at a Settlement Conference
The settlement conference will be held at an Arizona location chosen by the judge who is facilitating the session. The conference’s location can be found on the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) order to appear. You can expect a settlement conference to last an average of two to three hours, depending on the complexity of the case.
Each party attending the conference is responsible for furnishing the judge with a settlement conference memorandum at least seven days prior to the conference date. According to The Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County, the only people who can attend a settlement conference include the judge, respondent/defendant, petitioner/plaintiff, and counsel. Exceptions may be made in unique circumstances.
Once all parties arrive at the settlement conference, the judge is given background information about the case so that he or she can prepare to assist in the resolution of the dispute. The judge will also meet with the attorneys for each side and each attorney will be given time to present their positions. The plaintiff and defendant may or may not be present for this part of the conference.
After the attorneys present their case, the judge will meet with the plaintiff and defendant separately. During these meetings, the judge may make offers or counteroffers in an attempt to come to a mutual agreement. However, the judge cannot force either side to agree to an arrangement. If the parties are able to come to an agreement, each party will review and sign a settlement document and the judge will dismiss the case.
If the settlement conference is not successful and the parties are unable to come to an agreement, one of two things may occur. If it seems like there is a possibility that an agreement could be reached, the judge may recommend another settlement conference after more evidence is uncovered. If there is a low likelihood of a successful settlement outcome, the case may go directly to trial.
Failure to Show at a Settlement Conference
In Arizona, attendance is crucial when a settlement conference is scheduled in which you are expected to attend. Failure to appear at the scheduled time for a settlement conference may result in a no-show fee by the judge assigned to your case unless you have faced extraordinary circumstances that resulted in your absence.
If you know that you will be unable to attend your settlement conference immediately contact your counsel and notify them of this information. Your counsel can then file the appropriate motion to reschedule the conference or continue the settlement without your presence.
Preparing for a Settlement Conference
It is important to be prepared when faced with an upcoming settlement conference. If you don’t already have a family lawyer, you will want to get one immediately. Having qualified legal counsel on your side is essential to ensure that your rights are upheld and that any agreements you make are fair and legal.
Before the conference, your lawyer will prepare a detailed brief that sums up the issues, your position, and what you expect from the court. It should also contain itemized financial information for purposes of child support, property division, spousal support, custody and visitation, and any other issues you may have that requires resolution. The brief will generally be submitted to the other party’s attorney and to the judge or mediator. It is also common for your lawyer to meet with the other party’s lawyer prior to the settlement conference.
Contact a Family Law Attorney Today
To optimize your odds of a successful settlement conference, hire an experienced family law attorney who will fight hard to represent your side of the case. For more information about the procedures of a settlement conference in Arizona or to speak with a reputable family law attorney, reach out to the professionals at JacksonWhite Law.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.