So you received the notice in the mail that we have a Scheduling Conference or Settlement Conference coming up. This post will explain what exactly that means, especially for Charles, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s Counties.
A Settlement / Scheduling Conference is a formal meeting with the Judge or Magistrate. It is a way for the Court to figure out what the issues are in your case, whether any agreements have been reached, and if there are any resources needed. The Court will also set deadlines for things like discovery, and get a possible follow-up date for another conference or a trial date.
Often we sit in the Magistrate’s office and chat about the issues with the Magistrate tries to see if they can help the parties come to an agreement. The Magistrate will always explore whether any agreement is possible, so be prepared for that.
If each party is represented by an attorney, a Scheduling Conference gives them an opportunity to negotiate or work out an agreement. This is why most of the time the parties have to attend. If we can work everything out you need to be there to say “OK” and to finalize an agreement. If there are not two attorneys and only one then the attorney may still try to negotiate or work out an agreement with the other side. Sometimes there is no working out an agreement, so you get dates and a schedule for your hearing and then off you go (wondering why you even had to be there).
What to Expect
Most of the time what happens is that you and the other party get to sit in a hallway and wait for me and the other attorney to shuttle back and forth and try to make a deal. Now if there is no other attorney, you and the other side get to come into the Conference room with the Magistrate and me. Often the other side will ask questions and explain their issues. We will do the same. This gives the Magistrate the ability to try to help us settle. But if we cannot setle, then we get our Court dates.
Each County has their own rules on how these meetings are conducted and who gets to go into the meeting room if one side is not represented by an attorney.
St. Mary’s County: If there is not an attorney on the other side, then only me and the other party get to go into the Magistrate’s office. The theory is that the Magistrate just wants to talk to the lawyers. Since the other side is acting as their own lawyer they get to go back too while you will not. That may not seem fair but I will be sure to represent your interests in that meeting. In my experience, someone acting as their own attorney usually harms their case anyway.
Charles County: If one of the parties is not represented by an attorney then both parties get to go into the meeting with the Magistrate.
Prince George’s County: We sit in a waiting area and wait to get called. This can take some patience. Then once we are called, both attorneys and clients go back into a room with a case manager to discuss the issues and pick dates. If mediation might be appropriate we will have to get evaluated by the Family Division to see if it is appropriate. Sometimes if there are protective orders they will not refer to mediation.
A settlement or scheduling conference may be nerve wracking because you have to be in the same room with your ex. But we have done many of these and know how to handle them. We will discuss all of the issues before your conference, so you will have time to ask any questions.