The vast majority of divorces are resolved with some form of agreement. In Illinois, these agreements are known as Marital Settlement Agreements (MSAs). These agreements generally set out the terms and conditions under which the various disputed issues are resolved. Chief among the matters generally in dispute include child custody and visitation (who will be the physical custodian and how much child support will be paid, deciding which party is responsible for which debt, asset allocation (who gets what, and in what percentage), whether maintenance (formerly known as alimony) is paid or waived and barred by the parties, and other matters.
Oftentimes, the various elements of a MSA result from rulings on motions heard by the preliminary or trial judge. Various motions for child support, maintenance (alimony), minor’s educational expenses contribution, contribution to on-going marital debts, exclusive possession of the marital residence, and the like are heard by either individual calendar judges or (in Cook County, Illinois) preliminary calendar judges.
There are also provisions for pretrial conferences that take place when the parties have disclosed enough initial information back and forth to determine what is agreed upon, and what is not. The attorneys for both sides schedule a pretrial before the judge hearing prejudgment matters (your individual or preliminary judge), and the judge listens to the positions and rationals of both counsel. The judge presents the two attorneys with his or her recommendation for settlement, and this recommendation is communicated to the clients. The recommended settlement position is often enough to move the parties closer to agreement without having to endure the cost and trauma of a contested trial.