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Family Law

Why I’d Prefer My Clients Settle Out of Court

As a family law attorney, it’s my job to help people start over from some of the toughest times in their lives. It also means that I do so use the legal system. I’m a big fan of our legal system, it’s not perfect, but it does a pretty good job of resolving disputes between two (or more) parties. The way it does that is through an adversarial system, where each party takes a position and advocates for it. And that is a part of my job that I really love. I love being in court, constructing a case and making reasoned but powerful arguments to convince a judge that my side is the side that should win. In our system, the side with the most compelling facts and law wins and in most cases, at the end of the day, someone wins, someone loses, and the case is over.

Fighting in Court

The reality of family law is that it doesn’t really work that way. Because unlike a civil case, where you never have to see or deal with the person whom you sued after the case is over, in a family law case (especially one with children involved) the case isn’t over when the judge issues a ruling. People still have to interact, to sell a house, or pay maintenance, or to decide if Johnny needs braces. In short, you still have to have some kind of relationship with the other person after the case is over. In the case of co-parents, that relationship is extremely important. Children do better when both parents are involved in their lives, and when those parents aren’t constantly fighting with each other. Going into court and fighting tooth and nail with the other party does real harm to the relationship. It’s hard to stay on good terms with someone whom you’ve been beating up, and been beaten up by, in court. That means that people who can avoid the stress and tension of litigation already have an advantage in developing the right kind of relationship.

Settling Out of Court

Another reason that I’d prefer settling out of court is that when you go to court you are essentially saying “we can’t resolve this dispute ourselves, so please, judge, decide for us.” Most judges do an admirable job of trying to balance interests between the parties and any kids involved in a case, and they really do try to be fair. I can often tell that a judge has done a good job of finding a compromise when we walk out of court and neither side is happy with the result. When you litigate you are asking a stranger who will never know you or your family as well as you do, to listen to a few hours of testimony and then make some of the most important decisions of your life for you, without you really having any say. If you settle out of court, you may not love the compromises you made, but at least you have some ownership over them. You got to make those decisions, rather than leaving them up to someone else. That’s valuable.

Litigation Costs

Finally, and this is somewhat against my own interests, litigation is expensive. Very, very expensive. It’s not unusual for a half-day hearing to involve at least 10 hours of attorney time, between preparation, travel, the hearing itself, and then review and drafting of orders from the judge. Even at conservative rates, that time adds up to thousands of dollars. I certainly don’t mind, as its more work and more income for me, and as I said, I love being in court. But, I really believe that my clients are generally better served by avoiding litigation if we can. Sometimes that’s not possible, and that’s okay. When the other side refuses to be reasonable, or we have goals that we are just not willing to give up on, we have to litigate. That’s why we have judges. But before rushing down to the courthouse, it’s worth evaluating whether you can achieve good results by other means.

Interested in settling out of court? Learn more about mediation as an option.

Posted July 15, 2015
by: MFL Team

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