When a husband and wife are facing the emotional and psychological turmoil of a divorce, a question inevitably comes up is whether the parties should seek an out-of-court settlement or would they be better off taking the matter to trial? This is probably the most critical question you will face in your divorce, and there are pros and cons to each approach:
Letting the Judge Decide
If parties cannot (or will not) settle out of court, then the alternative is to let the family court decide. A family judge is a county judge, but unlike district judges, they only deal with matters that fall under the Texas Family Code. This judge is supposed to act with impartiality and without any preconceived ideas about your case until they have heard the evidence presented by each side. Bringing a case to court has significant risks because you must convince a judge about every aspect of your case - from trying to get custody of your children to who gets the lawn mower. Most people have a skewed idea of what court is about; they think it is a stage in which they just have portray their spouse to be the worst human on Earth and therefore they should give everything to you, “the good guy." The fact is, such unfocused mud-slinging very rarely will sway a family judge one way or the other. Parties really need to present their case in a way that will follow the strict rules of what can and can’t be said, and at the same time prove each point you present. When you choose litigation, you are putting all your trust in your attorney that they will present the best case for you and the court system will do the just thing. This may be the only option you have if settlement offers from your spouse are less than what is fair and equitable. On the other hand, if a settlement offer is close enough to what you could reasonably get in court, then the high cost and risk may not be worth the trouble of taking it to court.
Communication is Key to Settlement
If you are one of the rare few spouses who maintain good communication and respect through the divorce process, then you may be able to settle matters on your own; perhaps you and your spouse may utilize your attorneys only in an administrative capacity to help make sure the legalities are done correctly. However, in my experience, less than 1% of all divorce cases are resolved in this way. Most couples lack communication and/or respect by the time they file for divorce, or they will lose this ability by the time the case reaches the negotiation phase. For the other 99%, they lack the ability to communicate and cooperate. Under these circumstances it may be nearly impossible to settle your issues and avoid court. Fortunately, that does not mean all these couples are fated to have a contested trial to end their case. In Texas, there are a whole range of procedures to help couples who can’t communicate to nonetheless settle their case. These procedures are called Alternative Dispute Resolution. These are private meetings outside the court system which are designed to bring about a mutually agreed settlement. In divorce cases, we most commonly use a process called mediation, but there are many other procedures such as settlement conferences, mini-trials, and arbitration that can be tailored to your case's needs.
Which is Right for Your Case?
I believe that each client is an individual with unique needs, and so each divorce case is also unique and will be successful or not depending on the attention to those special details. If you are facing a divorce, you should begin to think about those details. Depending on where you are in the emotional process, this may be hard. However, the earlier you begin to think strategically about your case, the better the outcome will be. Ask yourself: What are your plans for the future? Will you remarry? Do you plan to have any more children? Will you purchase a new house? Will you start a new job? Money is always an important issue when considering whether to go to trial or settle. At the earliest stage, many people try to avoid attorneys altogether to save money. What these people fail to understand about settlement and negotiation is that it will only work if both parties are negotiating from a position of strength. The only way for you to be able to have that strength is to hire a reputable, experienced attorney who is ready and able to take the case all the way- and win.
Attorney Sean Y. Palmer has over 19 years of legal experience as a Texas Attorney and over 25 years as a Qualified Mediator in civil, family and CPS cases. Palmer practices exclusively in the area Family Law and handles Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Adoptions, and other Family Law Litigation cases. He represents clients throughout the greater Houston Galveston area, including: Clear Lake, NASA, Webster, Friendswood, Seabrook, League City, Galveston, Texas City, Dickinson, La Porte, La Marque, Clear Lake Shores, Bacliff, Kemah, Pasadena, Baytown, Deer Park, Harris County, and Galveston County, Texas.