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Many states now require parties - in family law and assorted other disputes - and their attorneys to meet before trial with a judge (or sometimes a commissioner, magistrate, or specially appointed neutral person) to see if the matter can be settled. At these settlement conferences, each side makes offers and the judge comments on their validity and fairness. The judge has no official power to make the parties settle at this stage, but usually strongly encourages settlement by bluntly critiquing the parties' trial positions and indicating how she is likely to rule on disputed issues during the trial.

In many Courts, including Federal ones, if a settlement conference isn't mandatory, a party may request that one be held.