What is Discussed at an Initial Status Conference?
An initial status conference is the first hearing that’s set in your divorce. During this conference, you’ll meet the judge and get an idea of how your case is likely to proceed. Read on to learn what to expect, how to prepare, and the likely outcome of an initial status conference.
What is an initial status conference?
An initial status conference is a brief meeting with you, your spouse, any attorneys involved, and the judge. It’s used for the judge to get an idea of where you stand in your divorce proceedings, whether you and your spouse agree on how to divide your property and debts (at least the big items), and what comes next for you in the legal process.
Depending on where you live, this conference may not even be performed in a courtroom or in front of a judge. Some states use family court facilitators or magistrates for a more informal process.
The ultimate goal of an initial status conference is to make sure you have filed, or will file, all the necessary paperwork for your divorce. If your divorce is uncontested – you and your spouse agree divorce is the best outcome for the marriage, and you agree on how to distribute your assets and liabilities – the court may tell you to submit a marital settlement agreement detailing how everything should be divided. The court will then review and sign off on a final divorce decree.
In cases where a couple is unable to agree on the distribution of everything, the court may set another status conference in one to three months as a check-in. Some states set timelines for a status conference; others leave it to a judge’s discretion. Courts are increasingly backed up, and if you’re not prepared with everything at the initial status conference, the court may set a follow-up meeting months down the road, delaying the final date of your divorce.
What must be completed before we attend the initial status conference?
You and your spouse must complete some key documents before the conference.
Financial disclosures are required in every divorce proceeding. While different states use different names for it, you’ll need to provide lots of details about your financial situation. Your spouse will be required to do the same.
A financial disclosure is a full accounting of all your assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. It gives each spouse a full picture of the other person’s financial situation. The goal of financial disclosure is to ensure that neither spouse is hiding money or assets the other would be entitled to receive.
If you have minor children, you may also be required to complete a parenting class. Some states require this even if your divorce is uncontested, while others only require it if the divorce is contested and you cannot agree on a shared parenting plan for your minor children.
Many parents take issue with a court telling them they need to take a parenting class. In reality, parenting classes teach more than simply how to parent minor children and may include topics such as the following:
- How divorce affects young children
- How divorce affects parents
- Specific developmental needs of small children
- Handling conflicts between divorced parents (without involving minor children)
- How to have healthy relationships with divorced parents and minor children
- Keeping the best interests of your child in mind
Every state has slightly different requirements, and every class may cover slightly different topics. But every course is intended to help both parents effectively navigate an emotionally charged time.
When you complete your parenting class, you will receive a certificate of completion which you’ll need to provide to the court. If you don’t attend the class or provide the certificate of completion, you may face additional challenges.
If you go to your initial status conference and don’t have these key items completed, your divorce will be delayed. The judge, magistrate, or family court facilitator will schedule a follow-up conference, probably several months down the road, where you’ll need to prove the completion of these items. If you don’t complete them by the second status conference, you may find yourself in trouble and facing a reprimand from the court.
What is discussed at an initial status conference?
At the initial status conference, you’re likely to discuss any issues you haven’t been able to resolve such as child custody, alimony, and any other matters you and your spouse cannot agree on. You may also discuss temporary orders. Temporary orders may be granted by a judge for a restraining order, temporary alimony, or a related matter.
An initial status conference can seem like a scary proposition, but the right guidance can ease your nerves and help you feel prepared, ultimately decreasing the amount of time you must wait to complete your divorce.