A pretrial hearing has three objectives: First, it provides an opportunity for an early resolution of the case without a trial or to narrow the issues for trial. Secondly, this hearing is used to establish time frames for discovery, to exchange witness lists, and to file motions. Finally, it allows the court and the parties to agree on a trial date. In some jurisdictions the pretrial is the first hearing at which the respondent(s) are represented by an attorney. While the law provides that more than one pretrial hearing may be held, rarely is more than one such hearing held.
The pretrial can be a productive hearing because its timing allows the parties to become more familiar with the facts of the case and to have a better understanding of what will be necessary to resolve the matter. The respondent(s) will have lawyers, the child’s lawyer-guardian ad litem will have had the opportunity to conduct the mandated investigation, and the agency workers will have a better understanding of what factors are critical to the welfare of the child and what services will be necessary to address those factors. In preparing for the pretrial, each party should have an understanding of what is minimally necessary to resolve the case, what additional information is needed, a tentative list of witnesses to be called in the event a trial is necessary, and a time estimate to prepare for trial.