What To Expect And How To Prepare For A Settlement Conference
A Settlement Conference Can Be Beneficial In Divorce To Avoid A Trial
Are you in the midst of a divorce? Getting a divorce can be a rough experience and emotionally difficult. Court dockets are crowded and litigating a case through a trial can take a very long time and end up being very expensive!
Many divorce Courts schedule mandatory settlement conferences routinely as part of the normal process. This is done to facilitate settlements and to reduce cases on the contested trial docket. Please note that in addition to mandatory Court ordered settlement conferences that scheduling voluntary settlement conferences outside of Court are typical and can be very beneficial. The goal in both is the same. Reach settlement to avoid trial.
What happens at the divorce settlement conference?
Each Judge and County conduct these conferences differently. Ask your lawyer to detail the process that is ahead in your case. What will the structure be? Will you be in separate rooms with the lawyers shuttling back and forth? Will the lawyers be talking together outside of the client’s presence? Will you all be in the Courtroom together? What is the Judge’s role? How long are they scheduled to last? The point is to learn the process so you and your lawyer can develop an effective settlement conference strategy and be properly prepared!
I meet with my clients in advance of the settlement conference to discuss the issues and the client’s goals. The goals may well have changed over the course of the litigation. Talk with your lawyer to reevaluate and prioritize your goals and objectives. What issues are non-negotiable? Where is there room to compromise? After all, compromise is an important component of being successful in resolving differences.
During that meeting with your lawyer decide if you are going to organize the issues to discuss from the simple (agreed upon items) to the hotly contested ones, or vice versa perhaps. Often it is prudent to start with things pretty much agreed upon to make some progress and hopefully get on a successful roll before hitting the most difficult items.
The Importance Of Email Ahead Of A Settlement Conference
I ask my clients to email me their position on all contested items to review before the settlement conference. That list can be very helpful so the lawyers can efficiently work through issues and ultimately focus on the “sticky” items. Remember, the lawyers may be conferencing together outside your presence for some or all the proceeding.
Neither party will be declared the “victor” in any divorce. Compromises need to occur. A strong divorce lawyer will help you prioritize your goals. Past emotional injuries can often make this process hard. Try to let go of the desire to punish your spouse. Put on your “business hat” and evaluate issues in a non-emotional fashion. Negotiating your own case to settlement eliminates the risk of how the Judge might view your evidence!
A very successful divorce attorney who worked at our law firm, Anne Shale, wrote a blog article about this topic in February 2011. She outlined the benefits of settlement conferences as follows:
- 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! [NOTE: Hourly rates have increased greatly since 2011.]
- 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.
- 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!
Both Sides Will Need To Negotiate To Reach Desired Resolution In Divorce
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of advance preparation and getting on the same wavelength with your divorce lawyer before the settlement conference. Your probability of resolution will increase greatly if you follow these steps. Of course, it likely will take both sides to negotiate in good faith to reach settlement. Good luck!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog. Mr. Mues has also been a dog owner for 55+ years, and just recently, he and his wife are the owners of "Ralph", a rescued mixed Wire Hair and Jack Russell Terrier.