After divorce has been initiated by one spouse, and the other has answered their divorce petition, couples have the option to settle their case out of court at any time. Property division, child support, alimony, and other matters unable to be resolved through mediation are decided at trial. Before couples reach trial, the judge schedules a pretrial hearing. While the name may sound quite formal, a pretrial hearing is an informative meeting. The pretrial hearing is a time for both spouses and their divorce lawyers to meet with the judge in an informal setting and explain how they want the judge to rule should they move forward to trial. This conference with the judge can happen anywhere from a few months to a few weeks before a trial, depending on how complex the split is.
Pretrial Hearing Process
A pretrial hearing helps the judge better understand the issues couples are having difficulty resolving and approximately how long it may take to do so in court. Divorce lawyers for both sides discuss what they hope to accomplish at trial, including evidence they intend to present and potential witnesses they plan to call.
These disclosures are based on all the information gathered during the discovery process, including financial documents, custody evaluations, and interrogatories. Certain judges prefer to meet only with the divorce lawyers in pretrial hearings; others ask that spouses be present. Because the judge who presides over the pretrial hearing is nearly always the one who presides over the court case, spouses have a good idea how their case will play out.
After hearing both sides, the judge tells both parties how they plan to rule provided no new information arises before the court hearing. Based on the judge’s feedback, couples then decide if they wish to go to trial. After the pretrial hearing, spouses who agree that going to trial will not be beneficial can work to negotiate a settlement on the remaining issues.
In some states, spouses can be divorced at the time of their pretrial hearing. Their agreement terms are entered onto the record and transferred into a decree to be signed by the judge. Spouses who are not ready to settle at their pretrial hearing receive a court date from the judge. While this gives them a foreseeable end to the divorce process, they can negotiate and settle at any time leading up to their court date.
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