Pretrial Conferences in Divorce Cases

Anyone undergoing a divorce in Massachusetts likely has heard the term “pretrial conference.” According to the Standing Orders of the Probate and Family Court, a pretrial conference is required in all divorce cases.

The purposes of the pretrial conference are set out in Rule 16 of the Massachusetts Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure. According to that rule, the pretrial conference will consider the following:

  1. The simplification of the issues;
  2. The necessity or desirability of amendments to the pleadings;
  3. The possibility of obtaining admissions of fact and of documents which will avoid unnecessary proof;
  4. The limitation of the number of expert witnesses;
  5. The advisability of a preliminary reference of issues to a master;
  6. The possibility of settlement;
  7. Agreement as to damages; and
  8. Such other matters as may aid in the disposition of the action.

Prior to a pretrial conference, the parties are each required to submit a Pretrial Memorandum, which sets out information as to the above eight categories. Along with that, they should each submit updated financial statements. Other fresh paperwork, such as updated child support guidelines worksheets and affidavits of care and custody, may also be required.

Before the conference, and before the documents are submitted, the parties are required to hold a four-way conference between the wife, the husband, and their respective attorneys. Typically, the four-way conference takes place outside of court, such as in the offices of one of the attorneys. There, the parties negotiate the issues, in hopes of resolving all or some of them; they also take stock of some of what will transpire at trial—for example, by pinpointing which issues are still contested, and discussing what proof, witnesses, and exhibits might be introduced into evidence during the trial.

Likewise, at the pretrial conference, which takes place in court and will be formally placed on the court’s docket, the parties continue negotiations. Should the matter come to a settlement prior to or at the pretrial conference, the case may be sent to trial immediately on an uncontested basis—in other words, the court may opt to resolve the case right then and there. In order to do so, the court will delicately consider and attempt to strike a balance between the effort to resolve the case and ensuring that the fair administration of justice is accomplished.

If you have any questions about divorce and related issues, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form here, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.