On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce on Thursday July 18, 2013
In our last two posts we talked about St. Louis County Local Rule 68 and its requirements regarding parent behavior after filing for dissolution. Today we would like to turn our focus to St. Charles County and in particular its case management system.
Like St. Louis County, St. Charles County has its own Local Rule 68; rather than focus principally on parent behavior, its local rule looks at quickly and efficiently processing a case to resolution, whether through a trial or settlement (with or without mediation).
Under a rule of the Missouri Supreme Court, all family courts must process cases in a timely manner, which has concrete meaning – half of all cases must reach final disposition within 120 days, and 90% must reach final disposition within 240 days. Despite these guidelines, family courts vary in their ability to process cases with this degree of timeliness.
In an effort to assure full compliance with these guidelines, St. Charles County has developed a Case Management System pursuant to its Local Rule 68.12. A Case Management Conference will be scheduled as close as possible to ninety days after the filing of an initial petition. Prior to the Conference, both parties must complete the parent education class; comply will all orders of the Guardian ad Litem, including payment of fees; file Statements of Income and Expense and Property; complete all requested discovery; and determine whether they will elect to use mediation. By requiring all of these pretrial matters reach completion within 90 days, St. Charles County helps parties become fully informed about the scope of their case, its complexity, and the issues in dispute, which will help the judge evaluate the case management.
At the Case Management Conference, the judge will determine if the parties opt for mediation or should be required to mediate, and will set a firm trial date. Please note – once a judge sets a trial date in St. Charles County, it will not be changed and the parties should not assume otherwise. In this respect, St. Charles County differs from other counties that have long trial dockets with cases that end up continued multiple times. The judge will determine the right length of additional time from the conference to the trial date based on the information provided about the case.
Another important distinction in St. Charles County is the pretrial conference. Many counties use repeated pretrial conferences to gauge the status of a case and help it move along or reach a disposition. In St. Charles County, the parties receive generally one pretrial conference and it should be seen as a settlement conference with the realization that the failure to reach settlement will mean the case proceeds to trial.
As you can see, the setup in St. Charles County has advantages for efficiency and clarity. Parties get discovery out of the way quickly and get a definite trial date. All efforts to settle a case, through mediation or with judicial assistance, are available early and encouraged, but if they fail, the case will proceed to trial on a date certain, no exceptions.
We like the openness of the Case Management System and feel that all family courts could benefit from these procedures, as clients do not like waiting forever to complete a divorce (they believe it breeds only further uncertainty and legal fees) and judges prefer to have cases off their dockets. Even cases of extreme complexity in terms of custody issues and property disputes can move expeditiously, if on the high end of the desired time frame set by the Supreme Court.
If you have questions about Local Rule 68 or the Case Management System in St. Charles County, contact us – we can help.