Mediated Divorce, Settlement Negotiations, and Other Well-Intentioned Efforts in the Dissolution of a Marriage

by Richard J. Coffee, II, Litigation Manager – Illinois Offices, Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

When the end of the marriage is clear and the parties wish to part on as amicable terms as possible, the spouses often will sit down to discuss each other’s vision as to how the parenting and finances will be resolved.  For the marriage that is ending on an uneventful note – the parties have just grown apart or lost interest – it is not unusual for the parties to prepare their own “terms of un-endearment” which they feel present a fair resolution.  While an experienced domestic litigation attorney may point out to one of the parties possible “better” terms or some of the pitfalls of implementing the “reasonable agreements” years (and future spouses) down the road, if the parties are satisfied with their “divorce deal” after fair warning, then the self-imposed terms are generally more willingly complied with than something a court may force upon them.


In some states, the parties may be able to proceed with having their agreement approved by a judge in a simple proceeding without the complexities (and lawyers) of formal litigation.  If more involved legal proceedings are required, lawyers may be needed formalize the arrangements and in assisting the parties through the process.   If a single attorney handles the matter, that attorney is usually the attorney for just one of the parties and owes no duty to the other party. While it may be technically permissible in some states for one attorney to represent both parties, in a divorce case dual representation is highly difficult and generally ill-advised for both the parties and the lawyer.

While clients do come in with reasonable, enforceable agreements that only require formalization, the more common “agreed divorce” situation involves the party who has retained an attorney being advised of the concessions being made and the implementation issues with the proposal, resulting in major revisions.  The other party may then retain their own attorney and the matter escalates to further negotiations or to litigation.

Clients will engage in settlement negotiations or mediation in an effort to avoid the costs, both financial and emotional, of litigation only to find that they did not have enough information to engage in productive sessions or to reach appropriate agreements.  Before engaging in attempts to settle the dissolution of the marriage, it is critical to understand what issues are on the table (and what are not) and the rules of how the issues will be resolved.  

Internet information or anecdotal guidance from friends is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified domestic litigation attorney in the jurisdiction in which the divorce will be entered.  Every divorce has some unique aspects.  Each judge has their own concerns about settlements and will have some discretion as to how the issues will be resolved.  While many divorces have similarities, there are few absolutes as to what will happen if a case goes to trial such that evaluating a settlement proposal requires intimate knowledge of the local practice and precedent.




Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell.

Mr. Coffee is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.  Read more…


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