Going to court can be unsettling if not downright scary. And more often than not in a divorce setting the first court hearing that you go to is a case management conference. At the basic level, a case management conference is like a “status check” for the judge to check on the case. The judge can make sure everything is moving along just fine, and offer the parties the opportunity to ask for any help they might need. The case management conference just can’t be underestimated as a tool to keep the case on the path that is the best for the family. In fact, any time a lawyer has concerns about either party, opposing counsel, the children, or any circumstances that might pose a detriment to the family, the lawyer can utilize a case management conference as a vehicle to address these issues and get them resolved. It can be used to move the case towards resolution, control the process, get the discovery process to go quicker, push the case into mediation faster, avoid litigation when appropriate, or if needed get the case to trial as quickly as possible. It’s a good thing.
WHY ARE WE GOING TO THIS HEARING?If there’s a case management conference set, it’s because either the judge has set it, the lawyers have agreed to it, or one of the attorneys has asked for it. With some judges, the case management conference is automatic and simply a matter of course. Hillsborough County judges, for example, automatically set a case management conference for every single case the moment the case is filed, usually 90 to 220 days out. The judges require the parties to complete certain tasks and steps in the divorce process before going in front of them. This has the benefit of lowering the average length of time for a case. With other judges, they’ll set a case management conference if they think the case is moving too slowly, or if they see a potential issue that they think they can help resolve. And for lawyers, a case management conference can be set either as a best practice along with a motion or other hearing for relief, or when they need a little bit of judicial help to get things moving in the right direction.
WHAT THE JUDGE CAN DO AT A CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCEJudges can do quite a bit at a case management conference to help the process, including:
- Ordering the parties to go to mediation within a set period of time.
- Fixing discovery disputes and ordering a party who is delinquent to turn over his or her documents.
- Set or reset hearings, motions, or trials
- Schedule when expert witnesses must have their opinions ready for the other side.
- Schedule hearing motions dealing with the rules of trial.
- Require the parties to figure out “what they agree on” before going to court to narrow down the issues, and save money and time.
- Appoint court experts, like guardian ad litem, when necessary, and allocate a temporary expense of the cost of the expert.
- Refer the parties to a home study or psychological evaluation, and allocate the initial expense for that study.
WHAT WE WILL DO IN ADVANCE OF THE CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCEThere are few things that you want to do with your attorney prior to the case management conference, including:
- Have a conference with your attorney in the days before the hearing. The attorney will go over the basics discussed in this article, but also should discuss specific issues that you might be able to address in your case.
- Make sure that the parenting course, if necessary, is completed.
- Make sure that all the mandatory financial discovery has been completed.
- Make sure the first financial affidavit is completed and filed with the court.
- Ask the judge for help if the other parties are not turning over their discovery in a timely manner.
- Ask the judge to refer the case to mediation if appropriate or if the other person is not cooperating with us.
- If our client is the breadwinner, offer to pay for a forensic accountant, or offer to share our forensic accountant with the other side, if the case warrants this.
- If appropriate, tell the court that we would agree to a court-appointed expert, like a guardian ad litem, to help with any disputes in the case.