If you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage, you may be contemplating negotiation, rather than litigation. Divorce can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting to you, your children and your extended family. The effects of divorce may be reduced if you and your spouse can negotiate a settlement, rather than going to trial and having the court decide. A negotiated divorce will require some give and take by both parties, and neither one of you will get all you want. If successful, a negotiated divorce will result in a final agreement that both of you are willing to accept.
There are several possible options for negotiating a settlement in your divorce:
- A negotiated divorce can be achieved via direct communication between the attorneys who represent the respective spouses. If there are only a few contested issues, the attorneys should be able to help the parties resolve their differences with the exchange of a few emails, letters and phone calls.
- If direct communication between the attorneys does not move the parties toward resolution of all of their contested issues, a settlement conference may be the next logical step. A four-way settlement conference is a face-to-face meeting between the parties and their respective attorneys. The conference takes place at either attorney’s office. It can last from one to eight hours, or longer, depending on the complexity of the issues and how committed the parties are to reaching an agreement. The purpose of a settlement conference is to resolve issues and move forward, rather than placing blame and rehashing the past. The parties must try to keep their emotions out of the process, and stay focused on outlining the terms of their divorce. If one settlement conference is not sufficient to resolve all of the issues, multiple conferences may be required to finalize the terms of the divorce.
- If emotions are running high, the attorneys may opt for mediation, rather than a settlement conference. Mediation is also a meeting between the parties and their attorneys to discuss settlement, but it differs from a settlement conference in that a neutral third party, called a mediator, is present to assist. The mediator’s role is to help guide the parties towards resolution by analyzing the facts and legal issues in the case, facilitating discussions and making recommendations.
If the parties are able to reach an agreement by utilizing one of the above options, the agreed-upon terms are put into a comprehensive settlement agreement. If the parties have engaged in a settlement conference or mediation, it may be best for them to sign the settlement agreement at the conclusion of the meeting so that the accord is not lost in afterthought once the parties have left the meeting.