November 9, 2021
If you as a self-representing litigant or represented and your attorney or the other side set your family law matter for a Trial Readiness Conference, Status Conference, Mandatory Settlement Conference or Trial Setting Conference, the logical next question is "what is next?" Here is a road map in Los Angeles County because the answer to this question is every lawyer's favorite: "it depends," and the answer really does.
Did the Court make orders either in court and on the record, in a minute order or both? Specifically, did the Court order the parties to comply with Los Angeles Superior Court rule 5.14 and exchange all of those documents? These include, but are not limited to, a brief, exhibit list, witness list and the like? If these are the orders, then you need to comply with them or have a really compelling reason why you could not. Be prepared that even with a compelling reason the other side could seek sanctions against you pursuant to California Family Code section 271. Here is a link to the Los Angeles Superior Court rules: https://www.lacourt.org/courtrules/CurrentCourtRulesPDF/Chap5.pdf.
If the Court has not made orders pursuant to rule 5.14, did you or the other side request a Trial Setting Conference because no movement forward is being made on the case? Specifically, one party may file a request for Trial Setting Conference after serving their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure documents, and conducting discovery, because they are ready for finality and ready to get that mandatory settlement conference or trial date with all of the rule 5.14 orders on calendar.
Now, let us say you and the other side have exchanged Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure, conducted discovery, engaged in settlement discussions and nothing is happening. If you want to move the case forward, then file all of those documents in compliance with rule 5.14. For example, if you have participated in a mandatory settlement conference or you have not but know that settlement negotiations are an exercise in futility, then go ahead and prepare and serve your trial brief, exhibit list, witness list and every other document required by rule 5.14. Make sure all of the retirement plans are joined to the case. Then, appear at your trial setting conference and ask the Court to set the matter for trial even if the other side is not ready or does not show up.
Best case, you get a trial date. Worst case, you get deadlines by which the other side must comply with 5.14. If they do not meet those deadlines, then you will likely get a trial date at the next trial setting conference. Make sure you also have a time estimate for your trial. Is it 2 hours, 6 hours, three days, one week? Have a meaningful discussion with your attorney about these time estimates because the Court will hold you to them.
What if the other side set a request for trial setting conference and you are not ready? You may still be conducting discovery or working on your profit and loss statement for your Income and Expense Declaration. Assuming 1 does not apply, then just be prepared to tell the Court what is needed in the case. For example, depositions, request for admissions, a bifurcated trial... etc. Have a time estimate for when these things will be done and be prepared for push back from the other side.
Best practice is to make certain you check with the Court each week on their procedures because the Los Angeles Superior Courts are constantly in flux and embracing change.
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