What Happens at a Pretrial Hearing for Divorce?

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

What Happens at a Pretrial Hearing for Divorce?

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

A pretrial hearing allows you and your spouse the opportunity to settle before going to trial. It also gives you insight about the process ahead. In fact, many courts have changed its name to pretrial conferences. These are generally more informal court appearances and often they occur in the judge's chambers instead of a courtroom. But what happens at them is similar in most courthouses around the country.

People signing documents on a table with a gavel and wedding bands

Schedule and Presenting Your Case

The schedule for a pretrial hearing is usually near the end of the divorce process. The only divorces that reach this point are those that are complex or involve parties who can't agree on the terms, such as asset distribution. The pretrial hearing is the last step before trial. At this point in the divorce process, you and your spouse have worked out most of the details. You've exchanged financial information with your spouse and the court. You've taken depositions, and your attorney has prepared your case.

This hearing is also the point where your attorney will present a condensed version of your case. Your attorney and the attorney of your spouse will tell the judge why he or she should rule in your favor on the remaining contested divorce issues. In some states, you and your attorney are required to provide the judge written evidence before the hearing. This allows the judge time to review the evidence and ask more detailed questions of your attorney during the hearing.

Judge's Ruling and Possible Settlement

After the judge has heard both sides present their evidence and reasoning, the judge will tell the parties how he or she would rule at trial. The judge always clarifies that the ruling they present will remain the same provided that there is no new evidence presented at trial. Courts and judges take this approach to help you. If the judge makes clear he or she will rule in favor of your spouse, it can be in your best interest to stop fighting so you can save the time and expense of a costly trial. But it can also motivate the parties to settle.

A settlement is when parties agree to terms outside of a trial. If both parties agree, one attorney will present a marital settlement agreement to the judge and the judge can order the settlement, which means it has the same effect as a judge's ruling at trial. But entering into a settlement agreement can save both you and your spouse time and money.


A pretrial hearing isn't the end. It's not even the time when you have to decide to settle. You can always enter into a settlement agreement thereafter, which is generally when most settlements take place.

Whether you decide to settle at, or after, the pretrial hearing, or take your divorce all the way to trial, the pretrial hearing gives you great insight into what's ahead for you. By understanding what's happening and properly preparing, you can make sure you give yourself the best chance of success.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help.

Learn more