Mandatory Settlement Conference

In the process of a divorce, when a trial date is set, the court will set a settlement conference for the parties to attend prior to the trial date. When the court orders such, it is mandatory that both parties attend as well as their attorneys (if they are represented). However, in Santa Clara County, when trial is set for less than ½ a day’s duration, a settlement conference is not mandatory.

A Mandatory Settlement Conference is generally ordered by the court with the hopes that parties attempt to settle their outstanding issues prior to going to trial on those issues. When parties are ordered to an MSC, the first step is for the attorneys (or the parties themselves, if self-represented) to prepare what is called an MSC Statement. It must be filed at least 10 days prior to the MSC and be served on all parties involved. The MSC statement describes the facts of the case as well as the outstanding issues and the parties’ position on those issues. Each party should include a description of prior settlement attempts and the outcome of such attempts. Generally, parties should refer to their county’s local rules of court and the California Rules of Court to ensure that their MSC Statement is in compliance. When drafting the MSC Statement, it is important to draft with care as it will serve as a first impression for the court regarding the attitude and efforts of the parties in the case. At the MSC, there will be a judge pro tem which are lawyers with extensive experience who volunteer to act as judge pro tems for settlement conferences. Their role is to help navigate the parties in their efforts to reach an agreement. Often, the pro tem will make suggestions that are, hopefully, agreeable to both parties and their attorneys. It is important to keep in mind that MSC’s can be helpful when the parties try to remain as civil and cordial as possible. It is a great opportunity for the parties to settle prior to having to go to trial and incur higher fees and costs in their case. The judge pro tem will often even give the parties an opinion on the potential outcome of certain issues should the matter proceed to trial. This is especially helpful as it gives the parties true insight on how the settlement offered may be more favorable than a ruling of the court at trial.

If the parties are successful in reaching any settlement on their issues, the agreements will be memorialized in writing and then drafted in a formal pleading format by one of the parties, or their attorneys, to be signed by all involved and presented to the court for filing. If the parties are unsuccessful in reaching an agreement, then they will report such to the court and trial will proceed as set.

Here at Mello & Pickering, LLP we can help develop a strong case for you as we have extensive experience in assisting parties reach settlement prior to trial even in the most complex cases. With our combined 28 years of experience we can help you to ensure that your case goes as smoothly as possible while ensuring that your interests are protected.