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What to expect at a divorce pre-trial conference?

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On some of the law related web sites, such as AVVO and Lawyers.com, individuals going through a divorce not represented by attorneys, frequently ask what is a pre-trial conference and what is going to happen at the pre-trial?

  1. When  and how scheduled? The pre-trial conference is typically scheduled following the 120 day statutory waiting period. It depends what county your case may be pending in. In most counties, you have to file papers and request a pre-trial conference with the judge. In Waukesha, by example, the court schedules the pre-trial conference on its’ own initiative and notifies the parties and/or teir attorneys of the court date.
  2.  Can one be divorced at the pre-trial conference? The answer is generally yes. If you have a signed written marital settlement agreement on all issues,  both parties have completed and signed financial disclosure statements, and if there are minor children, completed the statutory parenting class, it is possible to proceed to a final divorce at the time of the pre-trial. It is also best to check local court rules and contact in advance the clerk for the trial judge to see what other requirements there may be for the court to hear a stipulated divorce on the date of the pre-trial.  The court has to set aside sufficient time to hear the case and some courts want all paper work, including the settlement agreement, to be filed at least 48 hours before the pre-trial. The court’s pre-trial notice to the parties may indicate the requirements for proceeding to an uncontested stipulated divorce at the time of the pre-trial. This may also include a request that the divorce decree, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment of divorce, be filed in advance of the pre-trial.
  3. What happens if there is no agreement at the pre-trial? Assuming you do not have an agreement to proceed to a final divorce, the court will use the time at the pre-trial to get familiar with the facts of the case and to see what are the contested issues between the parties. The court may issue a scheduling order to the parties, and/or their attorneys, that will dictate when witnesses have to be named, when discovery is cutoff, when pre-trial motions have to be filed and heard, and if the court orders mediation, when mediation must be completed by. Further, if there are pensions, real estate, a business, or a dispute on the division of personal property, the court will order all such assets to be independently appraised, and when those appraisals must be completed by. If there are contested custody and placement issues of  minor children, if there already isn’t a guardian ad litem on board, the judge will use the pre-trial conference to appoint a guardian ad litem (attorney) for the minor children.  The court may also give out another final pre-trial date requiring the parties to return when all of the pre-trial scheduling orders have been complied with, prior to giving out a final contested trial date.

The pre-trial may be conducted in open court “on the record,” with the formality of the court reporter taking down everything that is stated in court, or the court may decide to meet with the parties and/or their attorneys “informally” in chambers (the judge’s office or conference room). More likely than not, if there are attorneys involved, the pre-trial conference will take place in the judge’s chambers, with the attorneys only being present, while the parties wait in the court room. If the parties are both unrepresented, the courts have a tendency to make the hearing more formal and conduct it in open court, “on the record.”

If you have questions about getting a divorce in Wisconsin, contact the experienced family lawyers at Karp & Iancu, S.C. today, for a free and confidential first meeting.

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