The topic for this Family Blog Article is one that is I like to use and one that I highly recommend to clients and to other practitioners. A four (4) way settlement conference is a meeting or conference attended by both parties (Husband and Wife) and their respective attorneys. The meeting generally takes place at one of the attorney’s offices but it could be held at an absolutely neutral location such as the Bar Association, a local library, or a church having meeting rooms available for the public. The meetings can take place during normal business hours but can also be held during evening or weekend hours as no one from the Court needs to be present and no one from the Court needs to oversee or supervise the conference. Therefore, the scheduling of settlement conferences can be done to accommodate each of the parties’ schedules and their respective attorneys’ schedules.
If I am scheduling a settlement conference, I generally set aside at least two (2) hours of time and I prefer to schedule them for 2:00 p.m or 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon with the thought that the conference will last up to two (2) hours of time and that I will then want to journalize the outcome of the conference while the agreed to facts are fresh in my mind and in my notes.
If the parties are comfortable being in the same room with one another, time can be saved by having the four (4) attendees in the same room. However, if emotions and/or tensions are high, you can have one party and one attorney in one room and the second party and the second attorney in a second room. These conferences take more time as one or both attorneys have to be the messengers to convey offers or proposals from one party to the other.
What are the benefits of having four (4) way settlement conferences?
- Savings of money: Litigation is expensive! If all disputed issues are to be litigated or “tried” before the Court, there may be hourly fees to be paid for one (1), to two (2), to three (3) days of trial time. Multiplying the hourly rate of your counsel ($150.00 to $250.00+ (per hour) times one eight (8) hour day of trial reflects that you could easily incur attorney fees of $1200 to $2000 per day for the length of the trial. If matters could be resolved or even partially resolved with a settlement conference, there will be a savings of money!
- Savings of time: Time is “money” is often stated! Domestic relations cases can be resolved over time by attorneys sending various settlement proposals back and forth by facsimile, scanning and email, or ordinary mail. However, if the parties and their counsel elect to have a settlement conference, significant savings of time can be realized. The case might be “settled” or “resolved” quickly rather than over months of time.
- Peace of mind: Going through a divorce or a dissolution is an emotional and sometimes “gut-wrenching” process. Parties often experience physical symptoms of distress and anxiety in not knowing how the case is going to be “resolved”. With resolution of disputed issues, the parties can experience peace of mind in knowing what is going to happen and how things are going to be resolved providing to each of them some “closure” without the discomfort, angst, and expense of a trial.
- Narrow the issues to be “tried” before the Court: Even if a settlement conference or conferences are not fruitful in resolving all issues, if some issues can be “settled” or “resolved” before the final hearing or trial, expenses of time and money can still be saved. For example, if the parties commenced a settlement conference with six (6) disputed issues, to wit: (1) custody of the children, (2) parenting time schedule, (3) disposition of the marital residence, (4) division of retirement assets, (5) division of household goods and furnishings, (6) payment of marital liabilities, if any issues can be resolved at the time of the settlement conference, time and money can still be saved!
After there has been a disclosure of the parties’ assets and liabilities, and it appears that both sides appear “motivated” to resolve the litigation, consider this option. I believe settlement conferences are a great mechanism to facilitate settlement of disputed domestic relations issues; and, in these troubled and trying economic times, we need to be doing all that we can to save time and money for our clients!
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.