Negotiating the terms of a divorce agreement isn’t easy even when you and your ex are parting on good terms. When there’s animosity between the two of you, the process turns into a complete nightmare.
Surprisingly, the percentage of cases that settle before trial is very high. Typical divorce settlements are crafted without actually going to court, which contradicts the familiar representation of husbands and wives duking it out before a judge.
The reasons most couples opt for an out-of-court divorce settlement are obvious once you consider the advantages of reaching an agreement without slogging through the strenuous litigation process.
When many couples start the divorce process, they don’t realize that you don’t need a divorce court judge to make decisions on how issues in your divorce are resolved.
It’s possible, either through dispute resolution methods like mediation or by negotiating on your own, to settle out of court and come up with a fair divorce settlement without a verdict from a judge.
Property division, parenting plans, child support, spousal support and all other parts of a marital settlement agreement can all be negotiated without going to court. Figuring out how to settle a case out of court can save you literally thousands of dollars. The more terms you and your spouse are able to agree on, the better off you will be than if either of you are intent on getting your day in court from the outset.
Once you and your spouse agree on the conditions of the divorce, the dissolution process is simple. All you need to do is write the stipulations into a contract, have both your attorneys make revisions until they agree it is fair, and submit the settlement agreement to the court for validation.
From there, a short, informal hearing will be held to review the settlement. As long as the judge finds that the agreement has been negotiated in good faith and doesn’t unfairly favor one spouse, it will likely be approved in just a few minutes.
The settlement is then formalized into a decree, which outlines each side’s responsibilities going forward. That’s the end of your divorce (although there are some post-divorce housecleaning items you should run through).
Going to court
If you end up going to trial for divorce, your case will be much longer, more expensive, and probably a lot more stressful. Granted, it may be a necessary evil if you and your spouse are unable to come to terms on important aspects of the divorce.
Most couples begin by at least trying to work out their own terms, and may even settle a few issues, but contentious items dealing with property, custody, support, etc., frequently derail the negotiations.
When divorce goes to trial, your attorney will start preparing your case for trial. They’ll begin the discovery process, which involves collecting evidence on the issues that are unresolved, reviewing the other side’s case, and building an argument supporting your perspective.
A divorce trial is time-consuming and pricey considering attorneys typically bill upwards of $200 per hour. It’s easy to see how court costs for divorce quickly get out of hand.
On the day of your hearing date, the judge will listen to each side’s testimony regarding the disputed issues and decide on a settlement within the parameters of state law. The judgment issued is binding and you’ll likely be stuck with whatever they decide. In an ideal world, judges would always hand down fair decisions, but some of the worst divorce settlements are issued in court.
Settling out of court
The less time it takes to finalize your divorce the more money you will save since your attorney will not have to do as much work.
Preparing for a hearing takes a lot of legwork, so your attorney fees are sure to skyrocket if you fail to reach an out-of-court settlement.
The discovery process might be necessary to build a compelling case, but it can be extremely time-consuming and expensive. The process involves collecting documents, bringing in expert witnesses to testify, waiting for your spouse’s attorney to respond to requests, conducting depositions, and more. All of these things include associated costs that add to the final cost of your divorce.
The most obvious reason to try to reach a settlement outside of court is how much money you will end up saving, but both sides are also much more likely to be satisfied with the outcome since you have more control over the terms. Once the judge makes a ruling, there is very little you can do if you disagree with the result outside of filing an appeal, which is extremely costly and difficult to win.
Of course, if you are trying to settle out of court but fail to make any progress in reaching an agreement, it may be time to get the court involved. That will be the only way for some couples to resolve their differences.
However, the dramatic increase in time and costs associated with litigation should give you plenty of motivation to exhaust all efforts towards reaching an agreement before stepping in front o f a judge.
If money isn’t a big issue for you, having more control over the outcome of your case should carry some weight and encourage you to work with your ex to try to settle out of court.
In any case, it’s a good idea to consult with a divorce attorney about your options and to help you run through a divorce settlement agreement checklist. They’ll know how to negotiate a settlement out of court and what to ask for in a divorce settlement while ensuring that you’re not taken advantage of in an unfair divorce settlement.