The best way to resolve a matrimonial action is by doing so via a written stipulation executed by both parties in lieu of the time, expense and aggravation associated with a trial. This may seem like common sense to most, but during a contentious divorce action, reason often substituted with anger, hurt and resentment. While these strong emotions are undeniably difficult to overcome, it is imperative a litigant do so. Yes……….easier said than done.
When and if a litigant reaches the “holy grail,” aka the settlement conference, it is important that the litigant is prepared both emotionally and otherwise. While a settlement conference can last five minutes or five hours, there is always something to be gleaned by participating effectively in such a meeting. Whether it is resolution of the entire action, several issues or merely gaining insight into the other party’s true agenda, preparation, patience and a cool head are essential.
Preparing for a settlement conference is the obligation of both the attorney and the party. First and foremost, a full disclosure of the financial circumstances of both parties must have been undertaken prior to the meeting. Second, subsequent to the meeting, each party should have discussed with his/her respective attorneys his/her requests in connection with a resolution, including each’s non-negotiables.
Often the hardest part of the meeting, the party must be prepared to sit across the table from his/her soon to be former spouse, and put aside any strong negative feelings. If this cannot be done, there is usually no point in having the meeting because it usually turns into a space whether both parties merely use it as an opportunity to antagonize and provoke each other. This, of course, is not a conducive environment to settlement negotiations, and will merely increase the hostility in the litigation, prolong the action, and cause additional legal expense.
The best thing to do in order to emotionally prepare for the settlement meeting is “keep your eyes on the prize.” Know the strengths and weaknesses of your positions; your priorities and what you are willing to give up in order to obtain what you really want. Enter into the meeting with confidence, strength and leave the emotion at the door. If you cannot do so, re-schedule the meeting until you are in a better emotional place to participate in the meeting.
Finally, it is important to understand that there are often more than one settlement meetings. Thus, if one does not go well, there may be another….and another. If it is determined that it is not helpful for the litigants to negotiate in the same room, the attorneys may decide to negotiate via telephone, email or without the parties present, but not in the same room.
Reaching the point in a divorce action where scheduling a settlement conference is discussed can be a critical turning point and indicator of how the remaining litigation (or resolution) will proceed.
Don’t get heated……..keep your cool.