Summary: Attendance at a first appearance conference is required by Family Division Rule 2.11 in all cases involving minor children. This post describes the first appearance conference.
The filing of a family law case involving minor children immediately triggers several important events and actions. These include, but are not limited to: production of Rule 1.25-A mandatory disclosures, preparation of a response to the petition filed, attendance at a child impact seminar, attendance at a first appearance conference and consulting with an attorney.
First appearance conferences are often approximately one hour in duration, although some are longer. Attendance at the conference is mandatory, unless excused by the court. Even couples who understand the importance of settlement must attend.
Courts will schedule a first appearance conference soon after the filing of any divorce, legal separation or parenting case in which there are minor children. At the first appearance conference a Family Division judge or marital master will provide information about the court process and the numerous options available to resolve family law disputes outside of the courtroom. The judicial officer presiding over the conference may or may not be the same person who ultimately hears a case. The conference will be attended by many parents at the same time, most of whom filed a family law case in the preceding month.
The conference is not individualized to the participants. The merits of a case or problem, even if urgent, cannot and will not be addressed at the first appearance conference. Instead, numerous parents of minor children who are involved in family law litigation are required to appear in the courtroom for an explanation of the process and settlement options. Since the substantive issues will not be discussed, attorneys seldom attend such conferences unless requested to do so by a client. At the end of the conference, a court clerk will typically schedule mediation or the next court event. With few exceptions, mediation is also required in all cases involving minor children. Therefore, the clerk often schedules parties for a mediation date with a court-appointed mediator at the conclusion of the first appearance conference. For more information about court-appointed mediators or the court-ordered mediation process, see: http://www.courts.state.nh.us/adrp/family/index.htm.
The first appearance conference was designed to help parents understand the process and court system. It is not an adversarial event and it is not case-specific. For further information about the first appearance conference, the Family Division posted a video of a typical first appearance, which can be found at: http://www.courts.nh.gov/specialsessions/familydivisonvideo.asx.