Understanding the Family Law Process can be confusing. You should always ask your attorney if you have any questions about the process. But this page will give you some basic information about what to expect in the process and how long it all should take.
Now what do all these things mean in Montgomery County:
Scheduling hearing: This is your first hearing, usually. It is just to set dates. There are no witnesses, no evidence. You just set the trial dates. You may be sent to a facilitator afterwards to try to resolve what can be resolved. If the Court orders you to go to the facilitator, you must go. Other services can be requested at this time such as a custody evaluation, a best interest attorney for the children and/or mediation.
Discovery: Written requests for information and documents. These can be in the form of Interrogatories which are written questions that must be answered under oath or Request for Production of Documents which require the party to whom they are sent to provide the requested documents to the sending party. You can send and receive discovery. If you receive discovery, you must answer it within the specified time or you can be prohibited from presenting testimony and/or evidence at trial.
Pendete Lite hearing: As you noticed there is a long time between the filing of the Complaint and the final hearing. Sometimes things need to be decided before a final hearing like child support, alimony, a visitation schedule, how the bills get paid, things that go into the running of every day life. The PL hearing (of course lawyers shorten it) is hearing held "while litigation is pending" in order to resolve some of these issues. They only resolve them on a temporary basis, just enough to get people through to the final hearing. Everything not settled by the parties can still be heard by the courts. This is especially true in custody. One parent may want sole physical custody but the child is living with the other parent. The court is not going to send the child to live with the other parent on a temporary basis because the final hearing judge may send the kid back. Too much shuffling of the child. So the court sets a visitation schedule to ensure the non-residential parent gets to spend time with the child. The Court then decides at the final hearing, based on the best interest of the child, the best final custody arrangement.
Pre-Trial Conference/Settlement Conference: These terms are pretty much interchangeable. This Conference is a last chance to see if anything can be settled before trial. The Pre-Trial Statement is also presented at this hearing. The Pre-Trial Statement is a listing of all the issues, the parties' position on the issues, a list of witnesses you intend to call as well as the evidence you intend to produce. If you do not file it, the court may not let you present witnesses or evidence. If you requested a custody evaluation, the evaluation will be presented at the Pre-Trial Conference.