Outline Your Final Steps in the Divorce Procedure

Now—at last—you are ready to learn about the legal procedures that will control the final phases of your divorce. For example, you may be told the news that your case has been "placed on the court’s calendar." This sounds like progress, of course, but just what does this mean? Where is your divorce case going? Here are answers to the questions, but more importantly an outline of the case-concluding journey you are about to take.

The answer to each question is that "it depends" on which court system you are in, and how long your trial estimate was. Every court system has its own rules to govern its own procedures. Short trials of a day or less typically do not command as much attention among court personnel as longer trials. The trial procedures are in place to manage the business of the court for its own efficiency; the longer the trial, the more care and handling the case warrants.

Most likely your case was assigned a Readiness and Settlement Conference date, followed by a Master Trial Calendar date—if your trial is estimated to take two or more days. You and your attorney attend the settlement conference; if your case does not settle, your attorney appears on your behalf at the Master Calendar. At that time your case may be assigned directly to trial, but will probably be ordered to trail, that is, standby, until a courtroom is available. [This maximizes the use of the limited number of courtrooms, but makes planning difficult and stressful for litigants.] With a short trial, you could go directly to trial or, more likely, to a holding pattern designed to fill unexpectedly empty courtrooms with short cases.

Your trial will be held within two months, generally, and perhaps within a few days on the calendars that some courts maintain for short trials. Most cases settle, so it is sensible at the outset of your case to expect that yours will. However, if you find as your divorce case proceeds that you have an unreasonable spouse, or a difficult issue requiring court resolution, you must be ready for trial. Here’s a road map of the procedures that you’ll encounter coming down the home stretch.

First, we’ll talk about settlement negotiations so that you’ll be in a better position to participate in this critical resolution of everything you have worked for up until now; to the extent of the available resources, you should be “outfitted” to proceed on a path of your own from this point on.

Second, find how to wrap your settlement up right, and tight, with a Marital Settlement Agreement.

Third, look into the court-supervised, last-chance-before-trial, settlement conference where the judge may save you trial costs.

Fourth, you’ll be introduced to the QDRO, as important as the settlement agreement or judgment to some.

Fifth, examine the ritual of going to trial.

Finally, we’ll discuss the important piece of paper for which you’ve been waiting, the judgment.