There are five discrete legal issues that are commonly associated with divorce: (1) child custody, (2) child support, (3) post separation support, (4) alimony, and (5) equitable distribution of marital and divisible property and debts. Although the actual divorce must be granted by the court, you and your spouse can settle other issues related to your divorce outside of court. Settlement negotiations can occur between you and your spouse, your attorneys, or within the context of mediation or other alternative dispute resolution processes. Negotiating an agreement of issues that are in dispute usually involves a series of offers and counteroffers in which both you and your spouse make certain concessions.
You and your spouse may be able to reach an agreement regarding all issues related to the divorce or only some issues. For example, you may be able to agree on child custody and child support, but unable to agree on alimony or equitable distribution. Any issues which you and your spouse are unable to agree on may be brought before the court for determination.
There are obvious benefits to choosing settlement over going to court. Some of the benefits of settling your divorce related matters outside of court include the following:
- Settlement eliminates the risk and uncertainty of going to court and letting a judge decide. When parties go to court, they cede all decision-making authority over to the judge.
- Settling matters outside of court is almost always less expensive and less time-consuming than going to court. Settlement can curb your legal expenses and eliminate the inconvenience of having to appear for conferences, mediation, and court events.
You and your spouse can be flexible and creative in your problem-solving, and craft solutions that are tailored to meet your family’s unique needs.
- You and your spouse can agree to things that a judge does not have authority to require. For example, a judge does not have authority to require a parent to provide financial support for a child who has attained age 18 and graduated from high school, but you and your spouse can agree that one or both of you will pay your child’s college education expenses.
- Negotiated settlement can lay the foundation for you and your spouse to have an improved relationship. This can be especially important if you are the parents of a minor child or anticipate having future contact.
You and your spouse can memorialize your agreement in a private contract rather than a court order which allows you to maintain privacy regarding the terms of your settlement.
Settlement brings closure. This can relieve stress, promote healing, and serve as a catalyst for both you and your spouse to move forward.
Although settlement is not possible in every case, there is a greater likelihood that you can reach a favorable settlement outside of court if you are represented by a knowledgeable family law attorney who is skilled in the art of negotiation.