Readiness And Settlement Conference

Earlier, you placed your case “at-issue” to move it to the court’s trial calendar. Eventually you will be ordered to appear at a court-supervised settlement discussion known as the Readiness and Settlement Conference if your case will take more than one day to try. While settling your case favorably is your objective, the court’s goal is to lighten its calendar by reducing the court days of trial. If your case will take a day or less of court time to try, it may go directly to trial without a court-supervised settlement conference.

Court assistance may be available without waiting until this mandatory conference. If at any time you believe it would help, your attorney can ask a judge to meet with all of you for a voluntary settlement conference. This judge usually won’t preside at trial because of confidences that may be disclosed to the judge for settlement purposes only. A court-supervised conference is especially useful when your spouse, who has been taking a hard-line position, hears the judge agree with you on the issue holding up settlement. That should be all it takes to bring the two of you together for a mutually beneficial settlement.

In the normal course of events, your divorce case will be set or placed on the court’s calendar for your Readiness and Settlement Conference (R&SC) some time after your attorney has asked for a trial. Your attorney prepares your R&SC Statement telling your side of the case. It begins with a factual background that may serve to introduce the family, highlight important background details and present the existing circumstances. Existing temporary orders are briefly summarized. Special problems should be brought to the court’s attention, and a solution proposed.

The heart of the R&SC Statement comes next. Each asset and liability is listed, briefly described, valued and a proposed distribution suggested. For example, the house might be listed at three hundred thousand dollars with a recommendation to sell it. Household furniture and furnishings could be listed as one category with a recommendation to divide equally per a tentative agreement.

Your child custody and visitation plan should be explained, with supporting reasons. Include a statement of the success or lack of success under the temporary plan, together with a summary of any professional evaluation endorsing your plan.

Finally, offer your proposal for child and spousal support and the reasoning behind it. Special needs are to be brought to the court’s attention now. Your attorney may choose to withhold your spouse’s recently discovered unreported income until trial, or may disclose this in confidence in the hope the settlement judge will lean on your spouse’s attorney or may include it in the R&SC Statement.

Your R&SC Statement should cover every issue raised in your divorce case. Include discussions of restraining orders, requests for attorney’s fees and other items as necessary. Plan ahead: most of the sections in your R&SC Statement can be used in your Trial Brief, although your attorney will need to add material and all the legal authority needed to support your proposals regarding disputed issues.

The judge receives both R&SC Statements in advance so he or she will learn what the case is about and where the differences lie. You and your spouse exchange copies in advance to prepare for discussions to narrow the gaps that exist between the two of you, without wasting time on issues which aren’t a problem.

Don’t be disappointed when you appear for the conference and find many other cases set for the same time. The attorneys are expected to conference with each other and involve the judge only when it will help get through a problem area. Have no fear about being shortchanged: judges traditionally stay as long as it takes if it will help settle a case.

Be ready to give and take, a little. Of course, try to give something you don’t care about (without letting this be known) in return for something that means a lot. If you’re close to settling, consider splitting the difference to save the several thousand dollars your trial may cost.

Congratulations! You settled your case at the Readiness and Settlement Conference. You spent most of the day at it. Once the judge let you both know how things were likely to go at trial, some good negotiating by your attorneys managed to bring the sides together. Get your settlement down in writing and signed by everyone as soon as possible.

Why the rush?

First, some of the details of your settlement may honestly be forgotten. Prepare the agreement while the discussions behind those notes scrawled on two or three sheets of paper are fresh.

Second, beware of settler’s remorse, which may set in. Don’t give it time. Get the document to everyone quickly before they talk themselves out of the settlement.

Third, attorney’s fees continue to be incurred until your file is closed. Dragging out the wrap-up of the final details may end up costing you more than you saved by settling the case rather than going to trial.

Fourth, you really don’t have what you bargained for until it’s in writing and approved by the court.

There is another way to quickly get your settlement in writing. When you settle at the R&SC, your attorneys may want to put this settlement "on the record" using the court reporter to record and make a transcript of the agreement. The court will convene, call your case, listen to the agreement, question you and your spouse about it and then approve your agreement. This ensures that each of you understand and agree to the terms of the settlement. There will be no chance for later claiming that there was a misunderstanding. You and your spouse are bound. The attorneys will obtain the transcript and prepare a Judgment by Stipulation, or similar document, for you to sign.