Four Way Settlement Conference

There’s not a lot of magic when it comes to being a divorce lawyer. I think that a lot of people think there is – magic words we put in agreements, or magic tactics we have to make the unmanageable somehow manageable.

The truth is, though, that (although I wish there were), there’s nothing very magical about what we do. We’re fastidious; we’re meticulous – but we’re not magical. Since all we do is divorce, we have a ton of relevant experience when it comes to most issues (though occasionally we’re still surprised), so we bring with us a pretty extensive level of knowledge. Hey – maybe that’s magic!

At the end of the day, though, there’s really only two ways to get divorced: by agreement, or by a judge. Most people (virtually all, in fact) end up with a separation agreement. That’s not to say it’s an easy process, and it’s also not to say that they didn’t, at some point, for one reason or another, file for divorce first. It’s not always a straight, easy, uncomplicated path to a separation agreement; there can be lots of bumps and detours along the way.

Sometimes, we go to court for one thing or another. Sometimes, we argue back and forth via letters or emails. Sometimes, things get worse at home (particularly if you’re living separate under the same roof) before they get better.

There’s nothing we can do to force someone to agree if they don’t want to agree. Sometimes, negotiations are pretty extensive. Other times, the opposing party won’t respond to us at all. We can’t make them respond, either. If we aren’t able to reach an agreement, the only other alternative is to go to court.

But, sometimes, as a stopgap before we go to court, we can suggest a four way settlement conference. I’ve had a ton of success with settlement conferences over the years and, I have to admit, I really, really like them. Rather than negotiating back and forth through letters or emails or phone calls, we can set aside a day to focus on your case and, hopefully, reach a resolution.

What is a four way settlement conference?

A four way settlement conference is just that – a conference where we discuss a settlement in your case with all four of the relevant parties – you, your attorney, your soon to be ex husband, and his attorney.

We also sometimes have judicial settlement conferences, which are the same thing – except they’re presided over by a retired judge. The judge can be helpful, in some cases, because he can help give the parties an idea of what they might expect to receive in court, or to help facilitate settlement in a way that attorneys can’t (because we’re busy being advocates for our client, not advocates for settlement). In cases where a divorce is filed, the cost of hiring the judge is often covered by the court system (it’s part of what you get for your filing fee). If divorce is NOT filed, you can hire a judge, too – but then you may have to pay him yourself.

How much does a four way settlement conference cost?

A four way settlement conference just costs the attorney’s time. It can be fairly substantial, if it’s a long settlement conference. (I think most of us have had settlement conferences that have run the entire day; I even heard of another attorney in our practice who had one recently that went until 10pm one night!)

The total overall cost will be related to your attorney’s hourly rate. Your attorney’s hourly rate will vary depending on his or her level of experience. In our area, hourly rates usually range somewhere between $200 an hour to $500 an hour.

It’s often less expensive, though, than extensive negotiations over a longer period. It’s a time set aside specifically for you and your case, and often we find that, face to face, the parties can’t be quite as ugly as they might otherwise be. We’re able to get to the crux of the issues faster, and come up with practical solutions to problems.

Will I have to sit in the same room as my husband?

Though you could, if you wanted to, that’s quite unusual. After all, this is divorce, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you aren’t on the best terms.

Usually, we keep the parties entirely separate. In our office, we’ll often put the husband in the conference room, and my client and I use my office. It’s not as fancy as the conference room, but it’s more comfortable.

The attorneys go back and forth with different options; each client has an opportunity to discuss advantages and disadvantages with their attorney. We go back and forth until we’ve resolved all the outstanding issues, or until it becomes clear that we aren’t going to reach a resolution. That has only happened to be a couple of times; in most cases, we’re able to resolve the issues and reach an agreement that works for everyone.

What’s the goal of the settlement conference?

At a settlement conference, we have one goal: to walk away with a signed and executed separation agreement.

That means that all of the outstanding issues will be resolved, and that we have nothing to do until your one year (or six months, if you don’t have minor children) of separation is up. If it’s already up – congratulations! You can file for an uncontested divorce and begin the process of finalization.

How long will my four way settlement conference take?

It depends on how many outstanding issues there are! If there are just a few, it can be over in a couple hours. If you have to resolve everything (or if custody and spousal support are contentious), it’s impossible to say!

Suffice it to say: you should bring snacks. We often don’t leave until the agreement is signed, and that can take several back and forths. We have to revise and review the agreement each time before we sign and then, when it’s all done, we have to sign several copies (each of which is initialed on the bottom before we sign the last page) in front of a notary. It’s truly a process.

A settlement conference is often a great way of getting a finalized agreement in place. It’s one specific day where we just focus on one case, and work on that agreement. They’re really successful! In fact, days when I have a settlement conference are some of my favorite as an attorney because I feel like we make so much positive progress. In my opinion, it’s almost always a very good use of client funds, too.

For more information about four way settlement conferences or to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss your options, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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