Practical Tips to Prepare for a Settlement
Look no further for some basic, practical tips on how to prepare for a settlement. Settlement is a very big thing in all family law litigation. The courts will push you from beginning to end to settle your case, so you need to be prepared for it. There’s a lot of different facets to a settlement – read below if you’re going into court tomorrow, and you’re worried that either you’re not going to settle or you’re not going to settle it well.
Here are six things that I think you want to do before a settlement. As you are thinking of these things, write them down! Things are going to pop in your mind and things are going to pop out of your mind. You want to capture them, because tomorrow when you’re sitting in your settlement conference, it may be a very long, very stressful day, where you could be tired, thirsty, and distracted. Having this written down will help you focus your thoughts.
1. Sit and think about the range of outcomes. Any issue in family law has a certain range of outcomes. You’re not likely to be sitting in a case that either has no alimony, or you’re going to pay permanently. You’re going to be paying a term. There’s going to be two years or five years, or it’s going to be 10 to 17. It’s not going to be zero to permanent, as you’re never going to have that. The sam eis true for alimony. There are only so many dollars that are going to be on the table for alimony – there’s a range that’s available. With custody, there’s only so many days in the week, month, or year. All your other issues, you will find when you sit down, have a certain range.
A way to find this out would be to first talk to a lawyer, which you’ve likely done before the night before your settlement. Hopefully, you have a lawyer that does always facilitate getting a case resolved. Most of the time you’re going to need a lawyer when you’re looking at sophisticated issues.
2. Try to recall what comments the judge may have made throughout your case. Usually if you’re at a settlement conference or you have a settlement conference coming up, you will have been in court several times with judges making comments. You also would likely have been through many different settlement conferences with other lawyers that the court brings in. Remember what they said. These are generally going to be independent views that are from very experienced people. Think back over what these people have been telling you through the course of your litigation.
The one thing I do not recommend is going to your friends. As great as I’m sure they are, as much as they want to help you, you’ll often get horror stories from people. You’re not going to be able to separate what is and what is not a factor, or what is the likely outcome. Don’t go to your friends if you can absolutely avoid it.
3. Think about your future concerns. If we’re talking about alimony, are you afraid that you’ll be making more money and you might have to share it? Are you afraid you could lose your job and not be able to pay alimony? Do you have retirement coming up in a number of years and you don’t want to be on the hook for alimony? Do you have children that have special needs, or special talents? Do they have religious, or educational marks that are going to come up, or periods of time that are going to be very significant? You want to think about these and you want to write down what they are.
4. Think about what the other party wants. Most of us go into a settlement conference protecting ourselves, worried about ourselves, and that’s human nature. But the only way to truly protect yourself is to understand what the other person wants and figure out if there’s a way to give it to them. Go through the same analysis. Are they likely to make more money in the future? Are they likely to lose their job? Do they have or could they develop a disability? When are they going to retire? What kind of social security money are they likely to get if they were less employed or underemployed during your marriage? What are their concerns for your children in the future? What are their concerns as a parent? You really want to take a lot of time and think about these issues and map them out.
You’re going to need to put aside your personal opinions. You might be hurt and angry that you have to pay alimony. You might have a spouse that committed adultery and you’re paying alimony and it really burns you, but you’re going to have to do it. You might want to be with your children every single day of the week and it’s not going to happen. You have to be realistic and you have to understand this, because there are only so many days in the year that you’re going to get your children. You want to be able to maximize what they are.
5. Have a range of numbers for all of these issues that you’re willing to go in and offer. I actually work out percentages before I go into a settlement conference. Whether it’s alimony or parenting time, I’ll have four different numbers, so that my client who wanting to resolve the issue can do so in a settlement. The psychological aspect of settlement is that person who compromises first will compromise the most and the most often. That’s not necessarily the best thing to do, so you want to go in with the ranges that you’ve been thinking about, but giving them in a staggered posture so that you’re not just putting out your lowest offer. I hate to minimize it, but it’s like buying a car. You’re going to start out high, they’re going to come in low, and you’re going to meet in the middle somewhere. You need to know how you can gradually move yourself into the middle.
6. Bring all this with you to court. I’m going to reiterate it. You’re going to be stressed in your settlement. You’re going to have a lot of legal issues coming up. You’re going to have a lot of decisions to make and these are probably some of the most major decisions that you’ve ever made and that you probably will make. You want to be able to have notes and you want to be able to take your time and refer to them. You can take a break. Don’t hesitate to say that you need to get lunch or have something ordered.
If the settlement doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t be afraid to reject it. Don’t worry that the judge is going to be upset with you, or that you’re going to lose this great opportunity. It’s probably not going to be the case. Even if it is, sometimes it’s better to have a judge give you a decision than to make a bad settlement for yourself. Because if you make a bad agreement, you’re almost never going to be changing that. If the court makes a bad order for you, you can appeal it, you can sometimes reconsider it, and you change your circumstances that now may allow you to review and modify it. I’m not discouraging settlement. The whole family court system is made for settlement. The whole process that you will go through is settlement, and I do believe settling your case is the best thing for most people. But if it’s not, don’t put yourself into a bad settlement because you’re afraid of what the judge may feel, because it may end up being a longterm problem for you.
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