An intensive judicial settlement conference resembles mediation, but is conducted by a Judge in our county courthouse. It can be the judge who is currently assigned to your case or, if we request it, a different judge if the parties request that the trial judge, who ultimately may have to make binding decisions about the same issues that we would discuss and try to settle at an “ISC,” be separated from hearing your settlement positions and willingness to compromise on any of those issues. Whether to have your trial judge, who may already have some familiarity with your family and your concerns, or a different judge handle the ISC is one of the first issues you should discuss with your attorney. If either party objects to having the ISC with the trial judge, it will be transferred to another.
Typically, we present streamlined written settlement proposals for the ISC, to enable the judge to quickly identify the concerns and scope of disputes. In person or on video conference, the Judge will first convene the parties and their attorneys for an introduction and reminder that (1) none of the discussions are going to be recorded; (2) all settlement discussions are protected by law against being disclosed to the trial judge at a later time; (3) no one is bound by offers that were made in the past or offers that are make during the conference unless those settlement terms are memorialized in a full written agreement. Then, that Judge will likely speak to each client/attorney separately, to try to determine where you might make the most headway. The judge will not make decisions for you, but may suggest hybrid or alternative solutions and encourage everyone to compromise.
Our Family Part Judges bring decades of legal knowledge to these settlement discussions. Often, the judge knows the lawyers who are involved from other cases, but that will never be a cause for bias or a preference for one lawyer’s client over the other. Unlike a mediator, the judge handling an ISC gives lawyers the opportunity to tell clients that they are getting commentary from a jurist who makes binding decisions on alimony, child support and property division daily and hopefully convince an unreasonable litigant to abandon her extreme demands or spark creative thinking that will generate consensus.
Be as open-minded going into an ISC as you would for any other important negotiation. Listen, learn and be ready to consider new options. From the lawyers’ perspective, the ideas suggested at an ISC might suggest valuable solutions that merit your serious consideration. Use this opportunity to find the best solutions for you and your family.