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Settlement Conference and Family Law

Settlement Conference and Family Law

Settlement Conference and Family Law

By Jeff J. Horn, NJ Family Lawyer


Court notices are confusing. Of course, your family law case causes a lot of stress. Increasingly, you wonder if your family law case will ever be resolved. Next, the settlement conference notice is received. But, what does this mean?

What is a settlement conference in family law?

In summary, a settlement conference in family law occurs in one of (3) formats:


  1. The parties and lawyers and experts get together to discuss and resolve as many issues as possible usually, this is outside of the court system. Hopefully, this is a casual environment to resolve important issues in your family law case. Successful settlement conferences result in written agreements.

2.The parties and Council are summoned to the court. Now, the family court judge runs the settlement conference. The atmosphere is more formal. Generally, the results are the same as an informal conference. Successful conferences result in written agreements or consent orders.

3. Family court judge Chambers conference. The lawyers and the judge discuss your matter off the record. Candid exchange is ideal – – ideally, there is a candid exchange. Certainly, every case has landmines. The family court judge may see landmines for both sides. It is easy to be blind to your own land mines. Fortunately, insightful Family Court judges can identify those landmines and encourage resolution so no one is blown up.

Is there a penalty for a failed Settlement Conference?

In all likelihood, a failed conference means you are headed to trial. Otherwise, there is no requirement to settle at – – to resolve your case at a settlement conference. To the contrary, settlement conferences are designed to promote a problem-solving environment. Most likely, failure is not punished or sanctioned.


However, failure at a settlement conference does trigger spending big time and money on your family law trial.


Alternatively, the failed conference can trigger a huge step. Perhaps, parties agree to retain a mediator. Or, parties agree to binding arbitration. All is not lost.


How to define a successful step in your family law case?


  1. Issues are clearly defined.
  2. Landmines are exposed.
  3. Every case has a weakness – expose it via settlement conference.
  4. Cost benefit analysis clarifies the value of moving forward.


What Authority exists for requiring a settlement conference?


Of course, New Jersey Court rules  permit the pre-trial judge 2 assist in resolving a case. For example, NJ Court Rule 4-5b  provides text expressing this essence of settlement conference:


the designated pretrial judge may sua sponte or on a party’s request conduct a case management conference if it appears that such a conference will assist discovery, narrow or define the issues to be tried, address issues relating to discovery of electronically stored information, or otherwise promote the orderly and expeditious progress of the case.


Inevitably, settlement conferences are advantageous to the parties, counsel and the court. Usually, the conferences are short in duration. Invest a morning or an afternoon on resolving your case. Mindset matters. Earnestly participating in the settlement process will propel your big future.  Remember, family law is about the future. Stubbornly refusing to participate dooms you to the sins of the past.


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 Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash