Though we talk a lot on this blog about what happens in divorce court, over 90% of divorce cases settle. In Orange County, the court often orders a mandatory settlement conference if you and your ex can’t come to some kind of an agreement.
When your divorce goes to court things get unpredictable. The judge doesn’t know you, your spouse, or your children. Judges get very little time to look at cases and have to make snap decisions in adherence with certain laws.
It’s usually to your benefit to be strongly pro-settlement, whether you achieve that through a settlement conference, through mediation, or through collaborative divorce. One of the ways you can make this easier is to go into the entire process knowing what you want out of the divorce.
Don’t make this decision at home, or after talking to friends and family members. They don’t know the law, and what happened in their case might not apply to what happens to yours.
Instead, sit down with your attorney. Outline the major issues of the case. Ask about the likely best case scenario if you go to court, then ask about the likely worst case scenario, as it relates to each of these issues.
Aim for a settlement that lands somewhere in the middle. You can ask for best case, and might get it, but be ready to compromise.
By setting these benchmarks and deciding what’s really important to you within those highly realistic parameters you give yourself a guideline that tells you when it’s time to stop fighting. It also gives you a guideline for evaluating settlement offers and holding firm when the offer is unreasonable.
There’s a stereotype that lawyers always try to drag out divorce settlements. Most scrupulous ones don’t: they genuinely advise their client on what’s best for them. Usually, it’s the client that drags out the process, because it’s the client, not the attorney, who makes the decision. An attorney can only advise, and fight to protect your rights.
Keep in mind that settling quickly will make the entire process less expensive and difficult for you.
Knowing your endgame helps you do that in a reasonable, rational manner. Developing the endgame with your attorney right from the start keeps you from trying to make these decisions when you’re exhausted by the process.
With any luck your ex’s attorney will give similar advice, allowing both of you to come to the table with some sense of what the law allows.
This is not to say that your divorce settlement must adhere, 100%, to what the courts might do. Indeed, one of the major benefits of settlement is the ability to craft parenting arrangements, asset division, debt division, and spousal support schedules that actually work for your family. Child support is different…child support must adhere to California guidelines for your agreement to be valid in the court’s eyes. A judge is still going to have to evaluate the settlement and issue the final divorce decree.
Finally, there are cases where settling is not at all advised. For example, if your spouse has been abusive to you then the imbalance of power may make it impossible to reach a fair settlement outside of the courts. The abusive spouse may draw out the process just to punish you, or to use a superior income to their advantage. It is equally vital for you and your attorney to know when it is time to push the matter into court.
Got questions? Contact the Law Offices of John A. Bledsoe to request a consultation.