Family Law Bench Book
Court Scheduled Hearings and Trials
Hon. Timothy P. Connors
The goal of the Family Law Judges is to assist parties to reach resolutions expeditiously and constructively. The focus is on problem-solving, rather than problem articulation. Reasonable behavior by parties and attorneys is rewarded.
- Pre-Trial Conference.
Pre-Trial Conference is an opportunity for the Court to evaluate cases and determine which will be readily settled and which will require more intervention. By requiring an early Pre-Trial Conference, it is the goal of the Court to expedite the parties’ focus on the issues and facilitate communication between the parties and counsel toward resolving those issues.
Within 60 days of filing an Answer to the Complaint for Divorce, the Court will schedule a Pre-Trial Conference (NOTE: If no Answer to the Complaint is filed, a Pre-Trial Conference will not be scheduled by the Court unless requested by the parties.) This applies both to DM and DO cases. Pre-Trial Conferences will not be conducted by telephone. Although parties represented by counsel are not required to attend, they are strongly encouraged to attend. If settlement is reached at the Pre-Trial Conference, the Court will allow proofs to be placed on the record. The Pre-Trial Conference will be conducted either by the Judge or the Judge’s judicial attorney. Parties are expected to bring and exchange the Pre-Trial Statement (insert hypertext link).
Functions of the Pre-Trial Conference:
- To identify the issues and to offer direction on substantive issues.
- To get the parties focused on the steps necessary to resolve the issues.
- To determine what additional discovery is needed and to set a schedule for completion of discovery (such as business valuations, appraisals, etc.) and exchange of witness lists.
- To refer cases, as appropriate, for FOC casework evaluations or referee hearings. A referral order will be entered.
- To confirm the parties have attended Mandatory Mediation Orientation Program.
- To explore alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, including what issues will be mediated and an appropriate mediator for those issues.
- To determine other necessary referrals, such as custody/psychological evaluation.
- To schedule the Settlement Conference according to the time table determined in the Pre-Trial Conference.
- To assist the parties with any immediate needs, such as resolving a temporary parenting schedule, to avoid need for temporary motions, i.e. de facto resolution of motions.
- To enter the Pre Trial Order.
- Settlement Conference.
By the time of the settlement conference, it is assumed that the parties have refined the issues, completed discovery and explored settlement. The Court will assist in reaching settlement.
- Both parties are required to be present.
- If a settlement is reached, the Court will allow proofs to be placed on the record.
- Parties are expected to be prepared with their issues and to discuss settlement.
- If a necessary recommendation will not be available by the date of the settlement conference (such as a FOC referee report, custody evaluation, business evaluation, etc.), the parties are requested to stipulate to an adjournment of the settlement conference so that the settlement conference can be meaningful.
- If settlement is not reached, the next available trial date will be scheduled, with priority given to conference trials.
The Court usually schedules several trials for the same date. Parties should expect to conference with the Judge on the day of trial prior to the commencement of trial. Trial briefs should be filed by the day of trial. If a conference trial is commenced, but not completed, the Court will attempt to schedule another trial date within one week. Conference trials take priority over all other trials. If a traditional trial is commenced and is not completed on the first day of trial, the parties will need to contact Central Assignment for future trial dates. The judge will personally interview minor children. Opinions will generally be given from the bench upon conclusion of the trial.
- Conference Trial Method.
Conference trial method allows for direct communication between the Court, the parties and the witnesses. The parties are able to directly address the Court regarding their concerns and their proposed solutions. The focus is on problem solving, rather than problem articulation.
- Attorneys give an opening statement and a closing argument.
- Rules of evidence do apply and the right to appeal is preserved, but the parties and their attorneys agree to a more narrative style of testimony. Ordinarily, Plaintiff testifies first, followed by the Defendant, followed by other witnesses.
- The conference method is also used for experts.
- Property issues are often handled separately from custody issues.
- Conference trials are not appropriate in cases involving abuse or domestic violence.