This is the fourth in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Here is my answer to question #4:
• What is your approach to settling a case?
The most important factor is reaching a good settlement in a case is knowledge — having all of the information needed to negotiate with. In a case with complex assets to divide, this may mean having a valuation expert complete an analysis on the value of the community property business. Or, knowing the method of dividing certain complex employment benefits.
Also analyzing each party’s position and the likelihood of success of those positions at trial is an important part of the settlement process. This means understanding the best alternative to settlement and the worst alternative to settlement. Having an experience attorney is essential for this stage. The euphemism of “a good lawyer knows the law but a great lawyer knows the judge” rings true here. Knowing how the judge is likely to rule on a particular issue is essential for a fair evaluation of the alternatives to settlement.
This is also an important part of managing expectations. A case is unlikely to settle outside the range of each party’s best/worst case scenarios. For example, the law says that a parent who does not have primary custody of his/her child must pay child support; so, a non-primary parent who will “only” settle the case if he or she is not ordered to pay child support has unrealistic expectations and will likely not reach an agreement. The primary parent would never settle for something that is a guaranteed outcome at court.
The last factor in a good settlement is planning – knowing the most likely ending point of the negotiation process and planning each strategic move in the negotiation to get to that desired point. This also involves understanding the negotiation process.