In some Georgia family law cases, the parties may request, or the Judge may order, a case to attend a Judicially Hosted Settlement Conference. A Judicially Hosted Settlement conference is like mediation, however, rather than using a mediator as a neutral party who will pass offers between the parties, a former Judge will serve in a neutral’s role. The Judge’s role is to help the parties agree on a settlement, but the parties are under no obligation to settle the case at the conference (just as parties are not obligated to settle a case at mediation). The conference can be utilized in lieu of mediation in some Georgia counties, and can always be utilized in addition to mediation.
The benefit of using a conference rather than mediation is that the Judge can assess the merits of the case and give the parties a guide as to how the Judge in their case will rule on the issues. The conference can be a “reality check” for both the parties and, for most cases, knowing how a Judge will rule makes the parties more eager to settle outside of the courtroom. However, the Judge’s opinion on the case is not a ruling and not binding on the parties, and the parties have the ability to agree on the outcome of the case, whether or not they agree with the Judge’s opinion. The entire process is confidential, and the parties are not under any obligation to settle. All in all, a Judicially Hosted Settlement Conference can be beneficial as it can be a cheaper and faster way to get your case resolved, and you can have a hand in determining the outcome.
By Elizabeth Doak, Associate, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC