I was talking with a client the other day who understandably was expressing some frustration that his divorce was taking longer than he’d prefer. “Why has it taken this long?” he asked me. “Why can’t we just get it settled.”
As I explained to him, he isn’t the only party to his divorce case. His wife is every much a part of the proceedings as he is. Add to that the two attorneys working on the case, his and hers, and the Judge hearing the case and you have a pentagram of complexity.
“There is one sure fired way to get this case settled right now,” I told him.
“How’s that?” he retorted.
“Give her everything she’s asked for.”
“I can’t do that,” he protested, “that’s not fair.”
“I agree with you,” I sympathized. “But as long as she is on the other side of that ‘v’ – as in you versus her – any settlement can only be determined with her agreement. Of course, there is another way to get it settled.”
“Do tell.” He was anticipating my next offering.
“She could accept everything you have offered.”
“I thought so,” he sighed. “You know she won’t do that.”
“I know,” I admitted.
Settlements don’t happen in a vacuum and they don’t happen unilaterally. They only occur in divorce when two people come together to get their issues resolved. Sometimes that is a very hard thing to do when two people are getting a divorce because they can’t resolve their issues.
In my 25 years of practicing family law, I’ve come to realize that settlement discussions should come early and often. One should never lose hope of a settlement. But settlement discussions should not delay resolution. Sometimes people cannot settle and the fruitless efforts to settle, particularly if they delay the resolution, only keep the wounds of the divorce open longer and make the case cost far more.
Once a case is filed, it should have an expeditious march toward a final trial. If the case is settled before trial, as almost all are, all the better. Hopefully a small fortune has not been squandered to get there. And if the case is not settled by trial then it requires a judge’s help anyway.
Settling a case is like dancing. It takes two to Tango. It takes two to settle a case.