What is a Status Conference in Family Court?
A status conference is a court hearing held during a family law case before the final trial. It provides an opportunity for the judge to review the progress of the case, identify issues, and encourage settlement agreements between parties.
Status conferences are standard proceedings in family court when certain types of petitions have been filed, such as divorce, legal separation, annulment, custody and parenting time, paternity, and child support. They are scheduled at various points during the case.
The conferences allow the judge to be actively involved in moving the case forward to resolution. Attendance by parties and lawyers is mandatory at status hearings.
When Status Conferences are Held
After Petition is Filed
Once one party has filed a petition with the court to begin a family law case, the first status conference may be scheduled. For example, if a person files a petition for dissolution of marriage, the court will set an initial status hearing.
The respondent (other spouse) will be served with notice of the petition and hearing date. The first status conference usually takes place 4 to 6 weeks after the petition is filed.
Additional status conferences are likely to be held in the months leading up to a final trial. As the trial date approaches, a status hearing may be set to confirm readiness, address any pretrial motions, or consider a settlement.
The court wants to avoid unnecessary delays, so it will verify through status conferences that the parties, witnesses, and lawyers are prepared to present the case. Continuances are discouraged without good cause.
Purpose of Status Conferences
There are several important purposes and goals for status review hearings:
Review Case Progress
The main function is for the judge to identify where things stand in the case. The parties and counsel will provide updates at the conference.
The judge wants to keep things moving efficiently towards resolution or trial. Backlogs and postponements are commonly reviewed. Deadlines for discovery, filings, evaluations, and compliance are examined.
By meeting with the parties, the judge can better understand the core issues, disputes, and positions. Arguments and motions can be heard to clarify points of contention.
Factors complicating the case will surface at the status hearing. For example, missing information, uncooperative participants, or requests for changes to parenting plans may become evident.
Judges use status conferences to facilitate negotiated settlements. Discussing weaknesses and strengths of evidence and legal arguments can promote compromise.
Proposing alternative solutions may lead parties to reach agreements. Many cases resolve through voluntary settlements rather than trials. The status hearings provide opportunities for productive dialogue between sides.
What Happens at a Status Conference
Status review hearings are less formal than trials. While procedures vary by jurisdiction, they typically involve:
The parties in the case and their attorneys will appear before the judge and go on the record. If one side fails to appear, the conference may be rescheduled or the absent party sanctioned.
Facts and Evidence
The judge will inquire about information gathered, documents exchanged, disclosures made, evaluations completed, and readiness for trial. Questions will be asked to learn facts and review evidence.
Arguments and Motions
The attorneys will summarize their client’s positions and discuss any motions. For example, a change in the visitation schedule may be requested. Legal arguments around motions will be made.
Negotiation and Settlement
Open negotiation between parties is encouraged to mutually resolve as many areas of dispute as possible. Terms of potential settlements are presented. The judge offers perspective to aid compromise.
There are a range of potential outcomes from a status conference:
Scheduling and Deadlines
The court commonly sets dates for upcoming hearings, filings, discovery, reports, and the final trial. Deadlines are established for completing various case requirements. Calendars are reviewed.
Until a final judgment, temporary orders may be made on issues like financial support, asset use, custody, and visitation. This provides consistency while the case proceeds.
Referrals and Appointments
The court may order the parties to engage in mediation, counseling, parenting education classes, drug testing, or other services. Experts like financial evaluators might be appointed.
In certain instances, a case could be dismissed if it lacks legal merit or sufficient evidence. Dismissals may be with or without leave to amend the petition.
Full or partial settlements are reached in many cases following status conferences. The judge helps negotiate mutually acceptable solutions. Settlement terms are read into the court record.
Preparing for a Status Conference
Being ready for a productive status hearing requires advance preparation:
Read the petition, responses, orders, motions, and other filings. Note deadlines, issues, positions, and facts. Understand what has happened so far.
Consult Your Lawyer
Discuss objectives, evidence, options, and the game plan with your attorney. Prepare any requests to make. Review possible settlement offers.
Have Evidence Ready
Collect records, statements, evaluations and other evidence to support your case. The judge may inquire about documentation.
Be Prepared to Negotiate
Maintain a flexible stance. Think about middle ground and be willing to compromise. Focus on problem-solving, not winning arguments.
Attending a Status Conference
Certain etiquette and practices should be followed when attending your family law status hearing:
Leave extra time to get through courthouse security and find the right courtroom. Tardiness will make a poor impression on the judge.
Dress professionally as you would for any court appearance. Judges will observe demeanor and respectfulness.
Address the judge as “your honor”. Stand when speaking. Avoid interrupting the judge or other parties. Keep emotions under control.
Record deadlines set, orders made, agreed terms, and next steps to remember important details. Get contact information for mediators, counselors, or evaluators appointed.
Follow Court Rules
Silence phones and avoid chewing gum, food, or drink. Photography or recording is prohibited without court approval. Obey all courthouse policies.
After the Status Conference
Once your status hearing concludes, promptly:
Review Notes and Orders
Carefully examine court orders and review your hearing notes. Understand assignments made and next steps required. Note all deadlines.
Discuss Next Steps with Lawyer
Meet with your attorney to strategize based on what happened. Prepare for upcoming deadlines and proceedings. Discuss options.
Continue Settlement Talks
If the case did not fully settle, follow up on any negotiations made. Explore alternatives and compromises to reach agreement.
Prepare for Trial
If settlement efforts fail, discuss trial preparation with your lawyer. Gather documents, interview witnesses, file motions, and complete all pretrial tasks.
Status conferences play a vital role in family court cases. They keep the judge informed on case progression, quickly resolve issues, and promote voluntary settlements. Being prepared is crucial for parties and lawyers alike to make the most out of status hearings. Key takeaways include:
- Status conferences happen after petitions are filed and before trials
- Judges use them to monitor readiness, identify disputes, and encourage compromise
- Parties must appear and discuss progress, evidence, motions, and possible settlements
- Potential outcomes range from scheduling orders to negotiated agreements
- Preparation, cooperation, and engagement lead to the most successful status hearings
Following proper procedures and court etiquette at your family law status conference will demonstrate respect, streamline the process, and bring you one step closer to resolving your case.
Are status conferences mandatory?
Yes, the parties in a family law case must appear personally at all scheduled status conferences unless excused by the judge. These hearings are not optional.
What if we reach a settlement before the status conference?
Contact the court immediately and submit your settlement agreement. The status hearing will likely be vacated if the court confirms the case resolution.
Can I appear by telephone for a status conference?
Maybe, but you must get court approval first. Telephone appearances are seldom allowed since the conferences involve direct interaction.
What if I’m running late for my status conference?
Call the courtroom clerk and your attorney right away. The judge may be willing to take a slight lateness into consideration, but repeated tardiness can result in sanctions against you.
Can I speak directly to the judge at the status conference?
Yes, but it’s advisable to have your lawyer speak for you. The judge will allow you to address them directly during the hearing, but experienced attorneys are better positioned to represent your case legally.