Done well, by both counsel and the judge, the pretrial conference is a great opportunity to settle a divorce case. That is if you have not already settled it at the four way meeting, in which case you probably will get divorced on the day of the pretrial conference.
If you haven’t settled, this is the time for the attorneys to write a memo that tells the story of your circumstances and sets forth in the best light possible what you want, and why you want it. By the time of the pretrial there should be no open questions as to values or assets. If there has been a custody issue the Guardian Ad Litem report should be in and should have been reviewed. Both sides must file an up to date financial statement and should file an asset chart as well.
The idea behind the pretrial conference is that the judge can read the memos and the financials; ask the lawyers if they have anything to add then the judge can tell everyone what he or she thinks about the areas of dispute. Then the parties and their lawyers (who hopefully have also brought draft agreements with them) go out in the hallways and try to reach an overall settlement. The court is always willing to take that settlement and get you divorced that day. If you can’t agree on everything and your case has to be tried then at least you can narrow the issues and your lawyer has gotten some good insight into how the judge may view matters.
In a perfect world this would happen more or less this way every time, in the real world of the very overburdened court system it doesn’t /can’t always occur. You may find yourself in the frustrating position of having done everything correctly and getting little or no feedback from the court. Some cases truly do need to be tried as well. There are often valuation issues or contribution issues that are so disparate that they require a trial, and perhaps, most unfortunately, custody cases often require a trial.
But…. easily 95% of all cases settle before, at or close to the pretrial and settle as a result of the work done in preparing for the pretrial.