Should You Settle Your Divorce Out of Court?

Settling a Divorce vs. Going to Court

Couples divorcing in New Jersey may want to end their marriage as quickly as possible, but each divorce is very different. Some people may find it easy to sit down with their divorce lawyers and reach a settlement, while others may have high levels of conflict over every aspect of the divorce. It may seem difficult to go through negotiations to reach a marital settlement agreement, but going to family court to handle the divorce also seems stressful and overwhelming.

Choosing to Settle Your Divorce

Divorce is both financially impactful as well as emotionally challenging. Both settling the divorce or moving toward courtroom litigation can have significant financial costs as well as painful moments. In all cases, your New Jersey divorce attorney can help you develop a strategic approach to address the matter and protect your interests.

In many cases, family court judges will encourage the parties to seek a settlement through a negotiated divorce process rather than moving directly to adversarial litigation. If they are unable to reach an agreement, the court will hear the case, but in general, judges will encourage couples to reach a mutually acceptable settlement with one another. In some matters, such as determining a custody schedule and parenting plan, it is essential that both parties decide on key matters that will work for their lives moving forward.

When Time Is a Factor

Settling may help many New Jersey couples conclude their divorce more quickly. Because the two parties and their respective family lawyers meet together to reach a settlement agreement on all major divorce legal issues, they can move forward on their own timeline rather than waiting for a trial schedule to go on the judge’s calendar. This does not mean that the two parties find it easy to talk to one another or do not have strong feelings about the issues involved. Here, your divorce attorney can play a major role in negotiating directly with the other party’s attorney, minimizing emotionally challenging or confrontational interactions between the couple.

If you choose to go to trial rather than seek a settlement, the busy New Jersey family court calendar may mean that it takes a year or more to complete the divorce, with large waiting times for trial. In addition, you will also need to work with your family law attorney to prepare for their presentation at trial, assembling evidence and determining necessary expert witnesses. While you can schedule settlement negotiations around your and your spouse’s work schedules, you will need to be in court whenever the judge schedules a hearing.

In a settled case there are fewer delays in getting on the court calendar, so the divorce process may be concluded more quickly. In general, a settlement is a faster path to a divorce, especially when both parties are able to reach an agreement. As a caveat, however, this is not always the case. If you already know that you will never be able to reach a negotiated settlement, you may spend more time in fruitless discussions than simply pursuing litigation at the start. There may not be a reason to work for a settlement first if you already know you will end up in an adversarial court proceeding, however, this is rare as most cases settle.

Stress and Finances During a Divorce

When dealing with time, you are also dealing with money. In many cases, going to court may be a more expensive process, because you and your divorce lawyer will need to prepare for trial and be present in the courtroom, as well as hiring expert witnesses. While negotiations also involve legal fees, contracted experts and other costs involved in reaching a settlement, this is generally a less costly road to reach a divorce than litigation in the New Jersey family courts.

The costs involved in a divorce can be emotional as well as financial. When the divorce drags on for a long time and the costs involved escalate, this may add to the emotional weight and anger associated with the end of the marriage. In addition, when the couple will need to co-parent in the future, settling the divorce can be a first step to establishing that new relationship, which will require many more agreements and mutual decisions in the future. Litigation is an adversarial process by nature. As such, intense litigation may make it more difficult to proceed to a regular co-parenting relationship after the divorce is concluded.

It is important to note that the family courts are not a solid path to achieve emotional validation for your suffering during a divorce. If you feel you were mistreated in your marriage, you may want to prove it to the world in court. However, family court decisions are made on legal principles and settled state law, rather than achieving vindication for one or the other party. There are other sources for emotional catharsis and closure, from therapy to fitness, and those may be better options than trying to seek some form of accountability in court.

Choosing to Go to Court

If you already know that you will not be successful in achieving a fair settlement, attempting negotiations may only add more time and money to your situation. When both parties have an intense dispute over finances, it may be difficult to resolve it out of court. The same is true if one spouse believes that the other is concealing marital assets, a process that may require expert witnesses and forensic accounting to address. Even though litigation may still take more time and cost more money, the outcome may be worthwhile on a practical level. If the other party and their family law attorney begin with an aggressive response, it may also be necessary to plan to meet that response in court.

There are other complex issues that may also move you to choose to go to court. Complex legal issues, financial entanglements or international divorces may all wind up in court. The goal is to settle, but that requires compromise from both parties. If one is unwilling to compromise, litigation may become necessary.

Preparing for Settlement Negotiations

Most divorces are settled through negotiations rather than going to trial, with the details of the agreement hammered out by divorce lawyers. Part of preparing for the settlement process means drawing up detailed case information statements and financial reports, including budgets, assets and liabilities. In order to protect your interests in a settlement, you must properly understand the marital finances.

Both spouses should expect a realistic outcome rather than expecting to “win” the divorce. In a settlement — or even in family court — neither party is likely to achieve everything they want. By deciding which issues are most important to you, you can develop a strategy that prioritizes those outcomes.

Your lawyer can help you determine whether going to court or settling the divorce is a better strategy for your case. Contact the experienced divorce lawyers at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our secure online form to request an initial consultation at our Red Bank or Watchung, New Jersey, office.

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