Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Divorce Cases Should Be Set Early and Automatically To Speed Up The Process

“Charlie”, my client, is frustrated almost beyond words: “When is this going to be over?”  It’s a good question, but one I can’t answer. We have just returned from a second settlement conference that accomplished nothing because the other side wasn’t ready.


“Your honor, I have three other cases going to trial in the next month and I just haven’t had time to focus on this one” is what opposing counsel told the judge a few minutes earlier before requesting that the conference be postponed for another 60 days.


“But, you have had this for 7 months already”, the judge exploded “you should be ready now! Why should I believe you’ll be any better prepared 2 months from now?”


“Perhaps if you set our case for trial in 2 months, counsel will be sufficiently motivated to prepare”, I interjected, knowing my idea would be rebuffed because most judges are loath to set a trial date if there is even a sliver a hope that a negotiated settlement might be reached. And, I was right. Another conference was set for 60 days hence.


I can understand my client’s bewilderment. He’s ready to move on with life and, as best he can determine, so is his wife, except that she stands to benefit financially the longer she remains married because Charlie earns so much more than she, throwing a dollar into the “marital pot” for every 50 cents she contributes while the divorce is pending.


It’s not the extra money that’s driving Charlie crazy. He has already offered his wife a disproportionate share of the marital estate…more than forestall this as an issue. It is the pendent state of his life that rankles him and the fact that the legal system plods forwards open-endedly without any seeming structure, or sanction for those that drag their feet.


Charlie’s situation is not unusual. Far too many divorce lawyers let their cases sit untouched on their desk until a trial date is set. Many are overbooked and unable to keep up with the caseload they’ve acquired. Others are afraid their clients will run out of money if they use up their initial retainer preparing and negotiating a settlement, should the case not settle and they have to go to trial.


Yet, by not participating in the settlement process, they increase the likelihood that the case will have to be tried, knowing that the legal fees to try a case are easily 2 to 5 times those of settling one.


At my office, we go to work immediately on our cases and produce a bona fide settlement offer within 30 to 60 days. We did this for Charlie and forwarded it to the other lawyer. Despite several follow-up calls we have never gotten a response. Over the years, I have found that it is simply less costly…financially and emotionally…to identify early on what our client needs to move forward with their life and then negotiate an agreement bringing that to fruition.


Because settlement conferences are so under-utilized, St. Charles County will no longer require them in 2008. I think that unless they couple this with an automatic and early trial setting once a divorce action is filed, I think cases there will drag out even longer.


Instead, I’d favor a system like the one in Jefferson County where a trial date is set automatically 7-8 months after the parties are served and a mandatory settlement conference is scheduled 3-5 weeks before trial, except I’d hurry it up a bit more. I’d like to see the trial set automatically 4-6 months after service and a mandatory conference in just 2 months. As I might have said to the judge, that should set a fire under the duffs of some of my procrastinating colleagues.