Shortly after a divorce complaint has been responded to by the other party to the case, the case will be scheduled for an initial Case Management Conference (CMC) with the judge who has been assigned to the case. The purpose of the CMC is twofold. First, the Court will assign the case to one of three tracks- expedited, regular, or complex. The vast majority of cases are on the regular track. Cases in which there are no children, or children who are all emancipated, no spousal support issues, and have minimal assets and debts may be assigned to the expedited track. On the other end of the spectrum, cases in which there are complicated business issues, complex financial issues or any other circumstance in which experts may be needed, will likely be placed on the complex track. The designation of the track governs the management of the case by the Court.
The other purpose of the CMC is to determine what discovery is needed and set a schedule for that. Discovery is exactly what it sounds like- the opportunity to discover or find out information that is necessary to proceed with the case and prove to the court whatever each party is alleging. It also gives the parties the opportunity to know what the other side is going to be relying on in the case. Examples of this are finding out income history and employee benefits from the other side. Is there deferred compensation available to supplement income, such as stock or stock options? What is the value of a whole life policy or real estate? In the event of a party who owns a business, discovery is the opportunity to find out information that may be necessary to value the business. Once the judge knows the information that is being sought, the judge will sign a scheduling order, or Case Management Order (CMO).
The CMO has several sections and sets the schedule of the case. These sections are:
Interrogatories: Interrogatories are written questions that one party can ask the other to answer. The questions will be tailored to the issues in the case. The CMO will have a date by which interrogatories are to be served on the other side and the date by which they must be answered. Answers are generally due 60 days after they are served. In the event of a circumstance that a party needs more time, this can be requested, and is most often granted for the first request.
Notice to Produce: This is a request for documents from the other party. This often includes tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, mortgages and deeds, and financial statements. If a business is involved, it will most likely include records from the business, which may then be provided to an expert that is setting a value for the business.
Depositions: A deposition is the opportunity to ask questions of the other side. For example, after a review of the documents provided in the Notice to Produce, an attorney and the client may have questions. This is the opportunity to ask those questions. The deposition is recorded and transcribed, and the answers are provided under oath.
Appraisals: There may be property that needs to be valued, such as a home, vacation property, or a boat. As well, if there is something such as artwork, antiques, or a coin collection, these may have to be valued. The CMO will have a date by which these are to be completed and will note who is responsible for the cost during the beginning stage. The ultimate allocation of costs and expenses will be decided at the end of the case.
The CMO will then have dates for future events. If the case has been designated a complex matter, a second case management conference will be scheduled so that the Court can make sure that discovery is proceeding according to the schedule, and if there are any problems that they can be discussed with the Court.
There will also be a date for the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP). This occurs after discovery has been completed, and is the opportunity for the litigants to come to the courthouse and hear recommendations from experienced matrimonial attorneys.
In some cases, the CMO will have a trial date as well, but this is generally only in cases which have been assigned to the expedited track.
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