The divorce petition has been filed. The response has been filed. Now what?
The Best Case Scenario
- Both parties agree on everything. Check √
- You draft a consent decree and file it with the court. Check √
- After the 60-day waiting period, you are divorced. Check √
However, if you don’t agree on everything, you enter Phase Two — Pre-Hearing Conferences.
Pre-hearing conferences are non-evidentiary hearings, meaning you are not presenting evidence or arguing your case. They are held in front of a judge or another court-ordered family conference provider. It is where you narrow the scope of your disputes, determine the issues on which you agree, the ones on which you don’t agree, or find out if you will need court-appointed experts.
Types of Pre-Hearing Conferences
Resolution Management Conference (RMC)
Most common. This is a half-hour hearing where you are in front of your assigned judge for the first time. Most often, the judge sets the RMC. You are required to file a Resolution Management Statement in advance. The RMC Statement is straightforward and should be specific about what you want. It will read like an outline:
- On custody I want ___ .
- On child support I want ___.
- On attorneys’ fee I want ___.
The judge should be able to lineup two RMC statements and look compare: Spouse 1 wants this / Spouse 2 wants that. If child custody issues are involved, your RMC Statement may look like this: “Mother, should be awarded sole legal decision-making because Father has been convicted of selling narcotics and domestic violence including assault.”
The judge will then move onto the parenting time portion. Agreements that can be entered into on a temporary or permanent basis will go into a rule 69 agreement (in Arizona, this means a partial agreement). Both parties will be sworn under oath and on record to that agreement. Those issues are then locked-in. Other, unresolved issues can be determined later; you may be scheduled to do follow-up dispute resolution or mediation.
Resolution Management Conference on Temporary Orders
This may be confusing because it is unclear if it is a RMC which is non-evidentiary, or is this a temporary orders hearing where they do take evidence. Just call the Judge’s Assistant/Clerk and ask, will evidence be taken?
Early Resolution Conference (ERC)
Scheduled when there are two, unrepresented parties. A pre-hearing statement is not required to be filed. In Arizona, the ERC is set for three hours and does not incur a cost. Parties go to the family conference provider affiliation services area of the courthouse where they meet with an attorney or someone especially trained to help them come to an agreement. Many, if not most, states offer similar conferences and facilities at the courthouse.
“Though attorneys are not required, I have filed a notice of appearance and attended an ERC with my client to assist in negotiations.”
Unlike the RMC, the family conference provider may review and rely on financial affidavits as evidence. Therefore, it is essential that you bring your affidavit of financial information so that spousal and child support can be calculated. When the ERC works, at the end of three hours it’s possible to reach your final agreement and greatly reduce your cost.
Status Conference (SC)
Either you are post-decree (filing for a modification), or you’ve done the RMC and negotiations, and there are ongoing issues. At this point, the judge will schedule a status conference. SCs are usually telephonic and scheduled for 15 minutes. The judge is not taking evidence and is not necessarily making rulings. It’s a check-in, so the judge can be assured the process is moving forward — a “get to the point, inform me (your judge), and move the case along” event.
Return Hearing (RH)
This type of pre-hearing conference might be set instead of a RMC or post-decree. A statement is not required to be filed before an ERC or RH. Since, as in an RMC, evidence may or may not be taken, a RH has evolved into a hybrid between the RMC and the SC.
Keep The Judge Informed
“We always like to do a status update, memo or pre-hearing statement in advance of a return hearing – even though it’s not required — because it is in front of a judge.”
Open Negotiations (ON)
This is a relatively new type of pre-hearing conference. Attorneys are not involved, nor can they appear. In an ON, you are in front of your assigned judge, flushing out positions. One example is that this is where you may be asking for justification for requesting sole legal decision making for the children. In this scenario, the judge may make a determination. (For more details, see Pre-Hearing Conferences: Kiddo Issues)