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Questions You Want Answered > What is the Court Process? > What is a Scheduling or Initial Conference?

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At the Scheduling/Initial Conference, you and your spouse and your attorneys appear before a Family Division Master.  The Family Division Master will determine the judicial needs of your case, and will assign appropriate services and orders, such as a custody evaluator and custody and property mediation, sometimes called "Alternative Dispute Resolution," or ADR.  At this Hearing, the Master will also to schedule the pertinent dates for the case, such as further hearings and conferences, and set a time table for completion of various tasks and stages necessary for your case to progress through the court system.

You must attend the Scheduling Hearing.  You should bring your calendar for the next 12 months in order to confirm and set appointments that the court will make in your case. Once these dates are set, they are almost impossible to change.  Depending on what services are ordered by the Court, this Hearing and any intake procedures afterward can take up to 1.5 hours.  Please plan for that amount of time.  

You should plan to arrive at the Scheduling/ Initial Conference at least 15-20 minutes before it starts, as parking can be tricky, and at times the line for courthouse security can be quite long.  It may be acceptable for the Family Division Master or the Judge to be late, but not any of the parties or their attorneys.

The magistrate is setting a lot of dates at this hearing. In some jurisdictions, you will have received a notification of the need to take co-parenting (parenting during divorce) courses; in others, those dates will be assigned at the scheduling hearing.  The court will ask whether you have any pendente lite (during the course of the litigation) issues that can’t wait until the merits trial. Those are issues like child access, child support, spousal support, attorney’s fees and suit money.  The court will ask how long you need to try those issues.  Be aware that some courts have limits on the amount of trial time they will give you for pendente lite issues.

Some courts bifurcate, or divide, child custody and monetary issues.  Others do not.  If it is bifurcated, the court will give you two sets of dates.  Otherwise, you will be asked how long it will take to try your case.  This is important, because the court will not give you more time than you request if it turns out you underestimated your time.  Some courts will give you a trial date at this time; others will give you only a pretrial conference at which they will assign a date.  By “trial date,” I also include multi-day trials.  The magistrate will also assign a settlement conference date at which the court will see if they can help you settle your case, and a pretrial conference, to make sure you are ready for trial.  Some courts make you wait to receive the papers indicating your court dates; others will just mail you the papers with the dates.  Either way, it’s important to write the dates down.

 One final point for you to remember.  If you don’t have a lawyer at the scheduling conference, and hire one after that, the lawyer will have to be available on the dates you chose at your scheduling conference.  The court will not change court dates because your new lawyer can’t make them.  My advice?  If you intend to hire a lawyer, either do so before the scheduling conference, or make sure you have the calendar of the attorney you intend to hire with you in court.  Otherwise, you need to find a lawyer to match your court dates.

Last updated on January 20, 2018 by Karen Robbins, Attorney at Law