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What Happens at a Massachusetts Family Court Pre-Trial Hearing?
Some family law cases, especially highly contested divorces and child custody cases, will need to go to trial to be resolved. However, only a small percentage of family law cases filed in Massachusetts actually make it to trial. Many are resolved outside of court or during one of the most important stages in the family court process, the pre-trial hearing.
Before being given a trial date, the parties to a Massachusetts family law case must take part in a pre-trial hearing with the judge presiding over the case. The parties are usually notified of the date of the pre-trial hearing by the issuance of a court order called a pre-trial notice and order.
The Pre-trial Notice and Order
Along with notifying the parties of the pre-trial hearing date, a pre-trial notice and order serves several other functions as well. First of all, it often orders the parties to meet sometime before the pre-trial hearing in an attempt to settle the case early. It may also order the litigants to submit pre-trial memoranda to summarize all of the points they plan to argue at trial, as well as, any witnesses and evidence they plan to enter into the case.
The specific obligations imposed on the litigants by the pre-trial notice and order may vary from court to court throughout the state. It is therefore very important that the order be read by an experienced family law attorney to ensure that you meet any obligation that it imposes upon you prior to the pre-trial hearing.
Litigants who attempt to navigate the family court process without the assistance of an experienced attorney often fail to understand the importance of the pre-trial hearing and, consequently, fail to comply with their obligations under the pre-trial notice and order. This, in turn, leads to the litigants being unprepared to adequately present their case at the pre-trial hearing.
During the Pre-trial Hearing
During the pre-trial hearing, the judge will enter on the record any agreements you have reached, and those will become binding agreements. The judge will also address the issues that still need to be resolved before the case can be settled, as well as, any witnesses you intend to call at trial, any evidence you plan to enter into the case, and the number of days the court should reserve for trial, among other things.
The pre-trial hearing will also give you and the other party another opportunity to discuss unresolved issues in person and to settle these issues before a trial. This will be facilitated by the judge going over the memoranda, hearing arguments from both parties, and then giving you feedback on contested matters.
The judge is not allowed to decide or rule on disputed issues at this hearing, but will rather set those issues for a trial or evidentiary hearing. So, you shouldn’t use your time at the pre-trial hearing to argue why the judge should side with you or why the other party is wrong. Instead, you should use the time to try to reach an agreement with the other party on any outstanding issues.
While the judge is not allowed to decide the case at the pre-trial hearing and cannot guarantee that his or her opinion on certain matters will be the same after a trial, his or her feedback may influence you to do more to reach an agreement with the other party on one or more of the outstanding issues.
For example, if one of the unresolved is issues is how much alimony you need after the divorce, and the judge implies that he or she does not find your argument concerning your inability to support yourself to be credible, you may be more inclined to agree to settle this issue early, rather than bringing it up at trial and risking the judge awarding you less or no alimony at all.
Concluding the Pre-trial Hearing
If it looks like the cases can be settled easily, the judge may order you and the other party to step out and discuss the unresolved issues before being called back into the courtroom. Even if you cannot reach an agreement on all of the unresolved issues, you may be able to file a partial judgment on the issues that have been resolved, thereby by reducing the number of issues that need to be resolved at trial.
In some cases, for example, when the only witnesses are the parties themselves, the judge may decide to conduct the trial then and there. Therefore, you should be fully prepared at the pre-trial hearing to enter into an agreement for judgment on your case. However, if after being called back to the courtroom, there are still unresolved issues, the judge will set a date for trial, which typically concludes the pre-trial hearing.
Contact contact The Law Offices of Richard Mucci
Whether the pre-trial hearing ultimately ends with your case being settled or being scheduled for trial, it is an inescapable aspect of the family court process. So, rather than lamenting over the inconvenience of having to appear in court, yet again, and the added legal expenses, you should see your pre-trial hearing as a great opportunity to settle your case completely or to tell your side of the story before going to trial.
For more information regarding what to expect at a pre-trial hearing in Massachusetts or any other Massachusetts family law matter, please feel free to call contact The Law Offices of Richard Mucci at 781-729-3999 to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced Massachusetts family law attorney.