When are we going to settle? This is a question I get asked fairly often by clients. Settlement is a voluntary resolution of a dispute, often during a lawsuit. No one can make you settle. The only way settlement works is if both parties agree on all issues of a case. Even if a party’s position in a case is absurd, in most circumstances the Court would be obligated to hear each party’s side at trial if the parties can’t settle.
There are a lot of good reasons to try and settle your child custody or divorce case. I will outline the reasons I think are most important below.
1. Settlement gives you ownership over the outcome.
I hear judges say all the time that if he/she has to decide the case, then neither side will be happy. That is true most of the time. People put value on different parts of a case. For some people, getting more visitation is more important than paying less child support and vice versa. The judge will probably enter judgment, at least in part, against what you would prefer. The judge doesn’t know you or the other party, so it is unrealistic to expect him/her to enter judgment exactly the way you want it. You will often win on some issues but lose on others. Judges often try to give and take from both parties. Any kind of litigation involves a lot of uncertainty. Sometimes you can be quite sure what the correct outcome is and still get a different result. Settlement gives you control over the outcome. A good attorney can negotiate a settlement that closely approximates the probable outcome at trial.
2. Most of the time settlement is much cheaper than trial.
While most clients will say that money and cost are not the most important parts of case strategy, you still need to meet basic needs before and after a trial. For every hour spent in trial, there are two or more hours of preparation. For a trial that lasts one day (around 7 hours court time) that would be 14 to 21 billable hours on top of the 7 hours in court. For an attorney charging $230 per hour (like me) that would be $4,830 to $6,440 for the trial, not including all the time it took to get a trial to begin with. A good lawyer will be able to help you understand the potential pros and cons of a proposed settlement. That way you can decide if it is worth it for you to spend the time and money involved with a trial.
3. Settlement is faster than a trial.
For the average child custody or divorce case in Oklahoma County, you are looking at a minimum of one year from filing until trial. This is because there are lots of other people with family law cases which take up room on the judge’s calendar. Settlement would allow you to finalize your case as soon as 90 days after filing for divorce cases. Closure is something most people want very desperately in child custody/divorce cases, and finalizing your case could help you on that path.
While the reasons outlined above are compelling motivation to settle, you should not settle for something that is significantly less beneficial than what you would get in court. You’ll need a skilled and experienced lawyer to help you understand what your likely outcome would be from a trial so you can allocate resources accordingly.