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In this article, we explain some basics you should know about pretrial hearings, including: What is a Pretrial Hearing?, When is it? , and What to expect from a pretrial hearing .

Sometimes also called a pretrial conference, or a settlement conference, pretrial hearings can be used to finish up divorce for parties in agreement or push the case toward settlement and /or prepare parties for an upcoming divorce trial.  

In this article, we explain some basics you should know about pretrial hearings, including:

  • What is a Pretrial Hearing?
  • When is it?
  • What to expect from a pretrial hearing

What is a Pretrial Hearing?

A Pretrial hearing is a meeting for the parties in a divorce case, their attorneys, and the judge. The Judge will hear the remaining issues in the case and try to help the parties move toward settling their remaining issues and/or prepare for trial.  

When Do Wisconsin Pretrial Hearings Occur?

A pretrial hearing is generally scheduled after discovery has been completed and both parties have submitted parenting plans, proposed marital settlement agreements, or other motions necessary to resolve their divorce. A pretrial hearing is commonly held shortly before the trial, but your judge has discretion over when it can be scheduled and may do so sooner if it seems the case may be likely to settle.    

What to expect from a pretrial hearing

Without Attorneys: If parties do not have attorneys, it is more common for the hearing to be more formal, in open court with a court reporter recording the hearing.  

With Attorneys: If parties have attorneys, it is likely that the hearing will be less formal. A less formal hearing would be a meeting of the parties and their attorneys, or just the attorneys, with the judge in the judge’s chambers.  

What happens at a pretrial hearing depends largely on where the parties stand. It can be a hearing for the court to approve the agreement that the parties have come to, or it can be used to set up, and simplify the case for trial.  

Parties have already settled: If the parties have already come to an agreement and signed a marital settlement agreement, an agreed parenting plan (if there are children) and statutory parenting class, completed financial statements, and done anything else that the court requires to grant judgement of divorce, the agreements can be submitted to the court before the pretrial hearing for the judge’s approval, and it may be possible for the court to grant the divorce at the pretrial hearing.    

Parties are able to settle at the pretrial hearing: A pretrial hearing is an opportunity for the judge to try and push the parties toward settlement. Having the opportunity for all parties and attorneys to communicate together in real time can make settlement negotiations more productive. It is common for a one spouse to believe that his or her position is stronger than the other spouse. One way judges may push parties toward settlement is by alluding to or sharing their opinions regarding the strengths an weaknesses of the parties’ arguments or positions on a particular issue. If the parties get an idea of how the judge would rule on an issue, it is more likely that the parties are able to come to an agreement between themselves. Judges may also limit what arguments or evidence can be used at the final trial, which can simplify things for the parties. If parties are able to come to an agreement at the hearing or shortly after, they can submit that agreement to the court for approval. Parties may agree on one issue and still disagree on others. Partial agreements will make the trial easier as only the unresolved issues have to be decided.  

Parties are not able to settle: If it is clear that parties are not willing to settle, the judge may focus on preparing for trial. The judge will figure out what issues still need to be resolved and simplify them as much as possible, so that the trial can be done as efficiently as possible. The judge may want to know what witnesses or evidence each party plans to present and may limit what evidence or arguments each party plans to put forward at trial. Once the issues are narrowed and parties have a better idea of what to expect from trial in terms of what arguments they will make and perhaps how the judge feels about those arguments, it may facilitate settlement.  

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