What to Expect from Your First Court Hearing
Typically at your first hearing, both attorneys will appear in court at what's called the "Calendar Call." The Calendar Call usually starts at 8:30 am and is the point where each attorney gives a brief overview of their case and a time estimate as to how long they believe it will take to resolve the case.
Do not expect your case to be the only one in court that morning; typically there are 10-15 cases before the judge. When each case is initially called in the morning, each attorney will take approximately two to three minutes to describe the issues in that case. This way, the judge can prioritize the calendar.
Your attorney should discuss settlement possibilities with you before going to court.
Last Minute Attempts to Settle
After the Calendar Call is complete, the two attorneys will "Meet and Confer" to discuss a possible resolution of the issues. In many cases, your attorney will shuttle between you and the other attorney to try and resolve many, if not all, of the issues. It's possible you won't even appear before the judge.
If the attorneys believe it would be helpful to discuss the matters before the court, they will request an informal "Chambers Conference." This is where the attorneys go before the judge in the privacy of the judge's chambers and pitch their versions of the case to the judge. Oftentimes, but not always, the judge will exert pressure on the attorneys to settle the case without the need for a formal hearing; the judge may even tell the attorneys how he or she intends to rule.
Should You Settle?
An experienced divorce attorney will use these dynamics to their advantage. Your attorney should only encourage you to settle if it is advantageous, and he or she should never pressure you to take a deal if you can fare better in an actual hearing.
There are horror tales of many cases being "decided in chambers." In these cases many feel that their attorney pressured them to either accept a deal or be willing to take something worse if they went before the judge.
Keep in mind that just because a judge says he or she will do something in chambers, it does not mean it will actually happen. A chambers conference is merely a discussion, not a judgment.
If an attorney puts a lot of pressure on you to settle on something that you are not comfortable with, you should question their motives. Be particularly skeptical if their opinion of the case changes drastically after meeting with the judge informally in chambers.
Your attorney should give you an honest and straightforward assessment of your case early. Ideally this assessment should occur in the attorney's office while preparing the case, as opposed to forcing a high-pressure decision in the hallways of a courthouse. Your attorney should discuss settlement possibilities with you before going to court, so you are prepared when situations like this arise.
Proceeding to a Hearing
If your matter does proceed to a hearing, the case may be heard that same morning. For a complicated or lengthy issue, your case may be heard later in the afternoon, several days later, or even, in rare cases, months later. Scheduling depends on the urgency of the matter as well as the court's schedule.
Every hearing is a little different. In some situations the hearing is formal and testimony will be required of you and other witnesses, while in an informal hearing only the attorneys will argue the case. Discuss your concerns with your attorney prior to the day in court. If you will take the witness stand, then your attorney should provide thorough preparation well in advance.
In addition to prep time with your attorney, you need to take the time to personally prepare. Follow our step-by-step instructions on How to Prepare for Your Day in Court.
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California Divorce Guide