In family law, a majority of cases settle outside of the courtroom. There are many reasons to attempt to reach a settlement, including uncertainty as to the judge’s decision, anxiety about testifying in court, the potential to increase animosity between the parties, and the attorney’s fees associated with attending a hearing. It is common for a party to never step foot inside of a courtroom because the parties reach an Agreement on all terms without the requiring the court’s intervention. There are two primary methods to reach an out-of-court agreement: informal negotiations and mediation. Informal negotiations involve communication between the parties and/or their counsel concerning the terms of a final agreement. This process involves communication as to the terms of a final agreement without the assistance of a third party (a mediator or judge). In some instances, the parties may be able to reach an agreement on the general terms of an agreement and engage counsel to assist with the finalization of those terms to ensure approval by the court. In other cases, counsel for the parties will exchange proposals and draft agreements in an attempt to reach a resolution.
In the event parties are unable to reach an Agreement through informal negotiations, mediation is a common next step. Mediation may be agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the court. At mediation, the parties are typically placed in separate rooms with their counsel and the Mediator serves as the neutral third party who exchanges proposals between the parties in intensive and focused settlement negotiations. The Mediator’s role is to assist the parties in their attempt to reach common ground by addressing certain considerations as to an anticipated reasonable outcome in court as well as other realistic and pragmatic concerns with any proposed settlement. There are instances where parties do not reach an agreement during mediation. In that case, a final hearing is the next step as the mediator does not have the authority to order the parties to comply with certain terms or reach a final agreement.
A recent trend in family law is for parties to engage in a collaborative divorce process. In such instances, parties are focused on reaching a collaborative agreement and hire respective counsel trained to do so. The process is similar in many respects to informal negotiations and mediation, with the ultimate goal of reaching an agreeable settlement. One different aspect of the collaborative law process is that in the event parties are unable to reach a settlement, they must hire new counsel and begin the process anew.
At Hollingsworth & Zivitz, P.C., our team has the experience, the understanding, and the compassion to assist with your family law needs. If you have questions or concerns regarding divorce, mediation, collaborative law or any other family law concerns, please contact our firm at 317.DIVORCE or visit our website at www.hzlegal.com.