In an effort to resolve family court cases prior to trial, many Minnesota district courts have implemented an additional type of alternative dispute resolution known as a “Moderated Settlement Conference.” This process was developed in Hennepin County, but has since expanded to other countries around the metro area.
A Moderated Settlement Conference often occurs following the prehearing conference (also known as a “pretrial”) with the court and before the parties have a formal trial in front of a judge to decide the remaining issues in their family law matter. Cases that are often appropriate for these Moderated Settlement Conferences are those which are close to settling, but for some reason have not yet settled as of the prehearing conference. For example, maybe the parties reached an agreement regarding custody, but are for some reason impeded from reaching an agreement on a permanent parenting time schedule, despite each party’s due diligence in reaching a resolution. A Moderated Settlement Conference may then be used to resolve this remaining issue.
Generally, this process involves one third party neutral known as a “moderator,” who may act as more of a mediator and/or as an evaluator (similar to an evaluator’s role in a Social Early Neutral Evaluation “SENE” or a Financial Early Neutral Evaluation “FENE”). Generally, the parties and counsel can define the scope of the moderator’s role depending on the facts and issues in a given case.
A Moderated Settlement Conference may also be held at the courthouse, depending on the court’s availability. If the Moderated Settlement Conference is held at the courthouse, judges or referees will sometimes make themselves available to read any agreements reached between the parties onto the record in order to solidify the agreements.