Thursday, November 5, 2009

If You Want to Settle Right Away...

In about half my cases, my client is anxious to get the divorce over with as soon as possible. That may be true because of a new significant other, a desire for a fresh start, being tired of his/her spouse, or countless other reasons. Sometimes, a party to a divorce becomes so anxious to finish the divorce that they will concede almost everything. Even with that attitude, sometimes it's hard to move quickly to a conclusion. Many times, though, a party wants the divorce to be completed right away, but remains unrealistic about how to reach an agreement.

A recent post in the Alaska Divorce Blog discussed this situation and recounted some advice from a judge at a settlement conference. That advice is worth considering, so I am reproducing most of that post:

"• In order to reach a settlement in any type of dispute, each party must be willing to make concessions. To make concession means each party must be willing to give up something in order to attain something.

"• It is unreasonable to expect a party to settle for a property division, which represents their worst outcome at trial. It is unreasonable for a party to receive what represents their best outcome at trial.

"• If a case is not settled, then each party gives up all control over the outcome to the judge (a third party) who does not know either party and may view what is important in the case in way, which neither party anticipates.

"• If a case is not settled, then each party gives up the opportunity to get divorce immediately and faces what could be months of delay until the trial date and many more months until the judge finally has time to make a decision.

"The point the judge was trying to make is that to settle a case both sides have to be willing to give up something in exchange for getting something. In addition, even though the parties in a divorce case are dividing one 'pie', frequently, there are other issues involved than how much of the pie each of them will receive in the property division."

Lawyers try to get the best deal they can for their clients, but the clients must seriously prepare for negotiations by analyzing their own bargaining positions and the motivations of their spouse. It really helps if both parties can take their emotions out of the discussions and approach the sessions as a business deal. They have to be willing to concede some issues to the other side. There needs to be a spirit of give and take. Both parties ideally will come out feeling they each won on at least some points. As the judge indicated, a settlement is not likely where a party ends up with the worst possible outcome they might have experienced if they had gone to court.

Remember, both parties will be thinking, "What's in it for me?" Successful negotiators have a good answer for that question.