A pre-trial conference in a divorce proceeding usually occurs towards the end of the case, once the parties have been able to narrow down their dispute to a handful of issues. At a pre-trial conference, the attorneys for both parties meet with the Judge and explain what their arguments are and what the evidence will show in the event the matter is taken to trial. The Judge will hear the arguments and make recommendations as to how he/she would likely determine the issue at trial. The recommendations are non-binding, and the parties are free to accept or reject the recommendations.
The primary benefit of a pre-trial conference is to get the Judge’s opinion on a few disputed issues in a cost-efficient manner. Instead of presenting arguments for the first time at trial, which requires significant preparation and cost to the clients, the parties are able to present their arguments and receive the Judge’s opinion in one afternoon. This encourages settlement between the parties; since the parties know how the Judge is likely to rule on a disputed issue, they can decide whether it makes sense to spend the time and money taking the issue to trial. It is usually prudent to accept the Judge’s pre-trial recommendations, as it it difficult to change a Judge’s mind absent a change in circumstances or a newly discovered argument that was not used at the pre-trial conference.