Moderated Settlement Conferences

Moderated settlement conferences occur in the weeks leading up to a trial. The process affords one last opportunity for the parties, not the judge, to control the outcome in their case. A neutral expert will offer a confidential, non-binding evaluative opinion about each party's position in an effort to facilitate agreement.

Moderated settlement conferences have become a bit of a trend in Minnesota, creating an easier, and more affordable way to resolve a divorce. Many family court judges are encouraging litigants to engage in this form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

A moderated settlement conference usually occurs after the “pretrial” hearing, but before the couple has a formal trial. It is a last opportunity to allow the parties to make decisions regarding the remaining issues in their family court case. Even if the parties have attempted mediation or an early neutral evaluation, the relevant information in their case may not have been as well-developed at the time.

The types of cases that are usually perfect for a moderated settlement conferences are those that are relatively close to resolution. A conference may be needed, however, because some key issue remains in dispute, such as child custody or alimony.

A third party moderator is hired to manage the conference. They are typically an experienced family law attorney, or retired judge, tend to act the part of both a mediator and an evaluator. The scope of the moderator’s responsibilities is outlined by the parties, and their attorneys, based on the issues and the facts that are causing conflict.

Conferences are typically held at the courthouse, depending on the availability of the judge. If held at the courthouse, referees or judges will make themselves available to immediately approve agreements that have been reached by the parties, preventing the litigants from “undoing” things.