Preamble 

The Probate and Family Court is committed to providing child-centered and family-centered opportunities for case resolution. Consistent research finds that children are harmed when they are exposed to conflict between their parents. The case resolution opportunities set forth below are designed to reduce conflict in the resolution of disputes between parents and other caregivers about children. In issuing this Standing Order, the Probate and Family Court affirms the importance of case resolution without a trial. 

I. General Provisions 

A. This Standing Order applies in all divisions of the Probate and Family Court Department. The mandatory provisions of this Standing Order apply to all contested custody divorce and contested custody divorce modification cases as defined below. The voluntary provisions apply to any divorce, divorce modification or separate support case. 

B. Nothing in this Standing Order alters the requirement that all divorcing parents attend an approved Parent Education program as required by Standing Order 2- 16: Parent Education Program Attendance. 

C. A contested custody divorce case or contested custody divorce modification case is a case where the parties are not in agreement as to all terms of any parenting plan, including legal and physical custody, parenting time, as well as to the amount of a child support order. 

D. The limited discovery provisions in Section III must be followed for all cases participating in the Early Case Settlement Process. Parties in any initial divorce or divorce modification or separate support case may, by written agreement, agree to follow the limited discovery provisions in Section III. 

E. The case settlement conference provisions below must be followed for all cases participating in the Early Case Settlement Process. The case settlement conference provisions below must also be followed in all contested custody divorce cases and contested custody divorce modification cases, unless otherwise ordered by the Court or where an order prohibiting contact between the parties is in place. In any other action in which discovery is complete, at the request of both parties, the Court shall, except for good cause shown, direct the parties, and their attorneys, if any, to participate in a settlement conference or conferences before trial for the purpose of facilitating resolution on some or all of the contested issues in the case. If one party requests, the Court may schedule a settlement conference. The Court may also schedule a settlement conference on its own initiative. 

II. Early Case Settlement Process 

A. The Early Case Settlement Process is a voluntary process that parties to any divorce, divorce modification, or separate support case may elect to participate in by agreement. At any point in the Early Case Settlement Process, either party may “opt-out” of the process by filing a notice with the Court that includes a short summary of the status of the case and the date of the next scheduled event. 

B. The Early Case Settlement Process includes three mandatory requirements: 

1. Compliance with the limited discovery provisions of this Standing Order; 

2. A limit of filing no more than two motions per party prior to the settlement conference; and 

3. Participation in a case settlement conference. 

C. To participate in the Early Case Settlement Process, the parties must complete the Early Case Settlement Process Opt-In form and file the form with the Court no later than 60 days after the filing of the divorce, divorce modification, or separate support complaint. The form requires that the parties acknowledge and understand that: 

1. They have voluntarily agreed to participate in the Early Case Settlement Process; 

2. They must complete all discovery required by Rule 410 of the Supplemental Rules of the Probate and Family Court and the limited discovery provisions in Section III; 

3. No more than two motions per party may be filed prior to the settlement conference; 

4. The Court will schedule a settlement conference no later than 60 days after the date set for discovery to be completed; and 

5. As part of the settlement conference procedure, they must submit a completed settlement conference form to the Court and to the other party or his or her attorney if the other party is represented by an attorney. 

III. Limited Discovery 

The limited discovery provisions below must be followed for all cases participating in the Early Case Settlement Process. Parties in any initial or modification divorce or separate support case may, by written agreement, agree to follow the limited discovery provisions below. 

A. In addition to the documents that are exchanged in accordance with Rule 410 of the Supplemental Rules of the Probate and Family Court, the parties shall exchange the following documents within 120 days of service of the summons: 

1. Summary plan descriptions for qualified plans held by either party currently or at any time during the marriage; 

2. All deeds and mortgages on which the name of either party currently appears or appeared at any time during the marriage; 

3. Vehicle certificates of title and registration, and loan and lease documents on which the name of either party currently appears or appeared during the 12 months preceding the filing of the complaint; 

4. All loan applications or personal financial statements submitted to any institution by either or both parties during the 5 years preceding the filing of the complaint; 

5. All appraisals, valuations and opinions of value of all assets owned by either or both parties prepared during the 5 years preceding the filing of the complaint; 

6. A complete copy of all credit card statements on which the name of either or both parties appears on which there has been any activity during any of the 12 months preceding the filing of the complaint; 

7. Documentation and an inventory of the contents of any safe deposit box and/or vault on which the name of either party currently appears or appeared at any time during the marriage; 

8. Copies of all insurance policies in effect at any point during the 3 years preceding the filing of the complaint, including without limitation, life insurance, homeowner’s insurance, collectible or personal property insurance, personal liability insurance (umbrella), automobile insurance or any other insurance of any kind; 

9. Documentation evidencing beneficiary designations and changes to beneficiary designations for all assets, IRAs, 401K plans, annuities, pension plans, profit sharing plans, insurance policies, etc., for either party during the 3 years preceding the filing of the complaint; 

10. Documentation for any liability, debt, personal loan or charitable pledge in effect at any time during the 12 months preceding the filing of the complaint and the most recent statement evidencing the balance owed; 

11. Documentation for any UTMA accounts, UPLAN, or 529 plans in existence during the 3 years preceding the filing of the complaint, including the most recent statement; 

12. Documentation of any existing student loans for a child of the marriage; 

13. The most recent credit report for each party; 

14. Copy of the most recent Social Security Statement prepared by the Social Security Administration; 

15. For self-employed parties filing a Schedule C, all documents evidencing business income and expenses for the 3 years preceding the filing of the complaint; and 

16. Pay stubs or summaries of earnings of each party for the 12 months preceding the filing of the complaint. 

B. In complaints for modification, parties shall exchange all documents listed above as they relate to the time period from the date of the judgment that is seeking to be modified to the filing of the complaint for modification, unless they agree otherwise. 

C. Each party shall attach an “Affidavit of Full Disclosure” when submitting their discovery, signed under the penalties of perjury and signed by his or her attorney, if any. 

D. No discovery outside of the provisions of Section III (A) is permitted, unless ordered by the Court upon motion of either party or by written agreement of the parties. 

E. If any party required to deliver documents under the provisions of Section III (A) does not have any of the documents required or has not been able to obtain them in the required time frame, he or she shall state in writing, under the penalties of perjury, the specific documents which are not available, and what efforts have been made to obtain the documents. The statement shall be provided to other parties and/or their attorneys within 120 days of the service of the summons. 

F. Each party has a continuing obligation to supplement discovery if and when such discovery becomes available. 

IV. Settlement Conferences 

The case settlement conference provisions below must be followed for all cases participating in the Early Case Settlement Process. 

A. The case settlement conference provisions below must also be followed in all contested custody divorce cases and contested custody divorce modification cases, unless otherwise ordered by the Court or where an order prohibiting contact between the parties is in place. 

B. In any other action in which discovery is complete, at the request of both parties, the Court shall, except for good cause shown, direct the parties, and their attorneys, if any, to participate in a settlement conference or conferences before trial for the purpose of facilitating settlement. If one party requests, the Court may schedule a settlement conference. The Court may also schedule a settlement conference on its own initiative. 

C. A settlement conference is an in-person meeting with all parties, their attorneys, if any, and the judge on the case or another assigned judge. Attendance at a settlement conference must be in-person unless other arrangements have been approved by the Court in advance of the scheduled date for the settlement conference. 

D. At the settlement conference, all parties shall make a good faith effort to fully discuss all unresolved issues in dispute. 

E. In all contested custody divorce cases and contested custody divorce modification cases, the Court shall not schedule a pre-trial conference date or trial date until a settlement conference has been scheduled and held. 

F. Unless scheduled by the Court on its own initiative, to obtain a date for a settlement conference, either party may file a “Request for Case Settlement Conference” form certifying that all interested parties have filed responses to the complaint, that all discovery requests and responses are completed, that the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) screening as required by Section V of this Standing Order has been attended or waived by the Court, and that the parent education class as required by the Court has been attended or waived. The Court shall assign the earliest available date for the settlement conference, but the date shall be no later than 60 days from the filing of the “Request for Case Settlement Conference” form. 

G. At least 5 days prior to the settlement conference, each party shall provide the Court and the other party or his or her attorney, if any, a completed settlement conference form including: 

1. An outline of agreed upon issues; 

2. A general description of the contested issues, and the positions of each party with respect to each issue; 

3. A brief, general description of the information that will be presented by each side with respect to each issue; 

4. An assessment by each party of the length of trial; and 

5. Any other information each party believes will be helpful to the settlement process. 

H. The settlement conference form may not be submitted as evidence at trial. 

I. If child support is a disputed issue, at least 5 days prior to the settlement conference, each party shall provide proposed child support guidelines worksheets, together with any required documents for determination of a deviation from the calculated amount of child support, including completed financial statements. 

J. After settlement conference forms are provided, the parties are encouraged to negotiate and exchange any other necessary documents. Any party may file and serve supplemental settlement conference forms prior to the scheduled settlement conference if the party's analysis or proposal to resolve the issues has changed after reviewing the other party's settlement conference form. If the parties resolve all issues prior to the settlement conference, they should appear at the scheduled settlement conference prepared to submit their written agreement and place the settlement on the record and/or enter final orders resolving the action. If the parties resolve some, but not all, of the issues in dispute, they should be prepared to discuss the remaining contested issues at the settlement conference. 

K. At the conclusion of the settlement conference, if the parties reach a full agreement and have executed the necessary paperwork, the Court shall hear the case for finalization at that time. 

L. If the parties do not reach a complete agreement of all the issues in dispute, and the parties desire to continue discussing the issues, the Court may schedule a further settlement conference if warranted and time is available. 

M. If the parties do not reach a complete agreement of all the issues in dispute and no further settlement conference dates are scheduled, the matter shall proceed to a pre-trial conference and then, if necessary, trial as to the issues remaining in dispute. As long as the parties participated in a settlement conference, no “four-way” meeting of the parties and any attorneys shall be required prior to the pre-trial conference. Up to the date of trial, the parties are encouraged to continue to resolve their disputes. 

V. Alternative Dispute Resolution 

A. All contested custody divorce cases and contested custody divorce modification cases will be referred by the Court for screening to an approved provider of court-connected dispute resolution services unless otherwise ordered by the Court, or when an order prohibiting contact between the parties is in place. See Rule 2 and Rule 6(b) of S.J.C. Rule 1:18: Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution. The referral will be made prior to the scheduling of a settlement conference or pre-trial date. This requirement will begin in the Norfolk division on June 1, 2017 and in the remaining divisions on a schedule to be later promulgated by the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court. 

B. When appropriate, any other disputed matters may be referred 

1. To Probation Officers for dispute intervention services in contested matters at any court event; or 

2. For screening to other approved providers of court-connected dispute resolution services as defined in Rule 2 of S.J.C. Rule 1:18: Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution. 

Effective June 1, 2017