Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Settle a Litigated Divorce Case

Although every case is different, there are some steps that you can follow to try to settle a divorce case in litigation. I say "try" because one side alone cannot control the outcome. Approaching the case in a logical and rational manner may help move you to a reasonable solution, but keep in mind that rationality is often in short supply in divorces. Still, it should help to know what to expect.

1. The first step is to establish your objectives. What do you want to accomplish? How do you want this to turn out? How do you see your life after the divorce? You should broadly define your interests, needs and goals regarding assets, paying bills, living expenses, housing, child support and visitation (if you have minor children) and retirement plans. Knowing where you want or need to end up will help determine your course of action.

2. Gather information. There are a number of posts in this blog and others dealing with information you need to gather. In litigated cases, there is often formal discovery, which consists of written requests for providing documents and other material, written questions to be answered and possibly depositions, among other things. Your attorney will direct you on the specifics, but you should expect to need information for at least the last 3 years, including tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements and financial statements, among other things. It would also help to prepare both a current budget and what you would expect your budget to be post-divorce, to help with planning and determining your needs. Sometimes experts are hired to determine the value of certain assets, including businesses, pensions or real estate.

3. Consider the motivations and interests on both sides of the case. Analyze what you think would motivate your spouse to come to a reasonable agreement with you. Sometimes, it seems like nothing can make your spouse reasonable. In reality, there's always something that each party really wants or needs, or fears. When you figure that out, you will be better able to get the case settled. Hopefully, you can figure out how to meet your spouse's interests at the same time yours are being met.

Sometimes, you need to mix in a dose of reality. No matter what you or your spouse wants, the judge may never order it or approve it. That should be taken into account. At the same time, there may be some issues that the judge has clear, standard rules about and you will need to conform to his/her approaches.

Also, some battles are limited by the fact that one or both parties lack the money or motivation to continue a fight. Real practical considerations should come in here, although some people insist on fighting even when they have run out of money.

In addition, encouragement to fight may be coming from the other party, the other attorney or the collection of unofficial advisors that everyone going through a divorce gets advice from. You need to figure out the source of the advice to fight so you can try to counteract it.

4. Work out a comprehensive agreement. You need an attorney with experience in negotiations. Rarely does the process go smoothly or quickly. That can be very frustrating, especially when one side is really stuck on one position. Don't expect your spouse to see things the way you do. Compromise is a necessary element on both sides.

One way to improve your chances of success is to use a mediator. Your attorney can help pick out a mediator who is appropriate for your case. Mediators generally have a success rate of 90% or better. Most Tarrant County divorce courts order cases to go to mediation before being able to go to trial. Obviously, it is a very effective way to settle cases. Your attorney will help you prepare for mediation.

5. Final steps: prepare the paperwork and get it signed. The more complicated the case, the more paperwork there is, but there will always be more than you would expect. It sometimes takes a while for the attorneys to agree on the wording, so don't be surprised if it takes a while to complete the paperwork. Even though attorneys use somewhat standard forms, there are always changes to be made to match the terms that were agreed upon.

Note: If you are lucky enough to be able to use Collaborative Law to settle your case, the steps are similar: Set Goals; Gather Information; Develop Options for Settlement; Negotiate to Agreement; Prepare the Paperwork. BUT, the tone and atmosphere are very different in Collaborative. Check it out on this blog and my Texas Collaborative Law blog for more information.

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