Do you want to save money and get through your divorce with as little pain (financial and emotional) as possible? Okay… dumb question… everybody does.

The challenge is "how?"

"Negotiate" is the simple answer but how do you negotiate with someone you don’t trust, respect and can’t communicate well with? Some lucky few are able to negotiate on their own but most people need some help.

Anne Shale wrote an excellent blog in the Ohio Family Law Blog that extols the benefits of the four way meeting in which both parties and lawyers meet to discuss, negotiate and resolve the issues.

Anne suggests the following benefits of negotiating through four way settlement meetings:

Savings of money: Litigation is expensive!  If all disputed issues are to be litigated or “tried” before the Court, there may be hourly fees to be paid for one (1), to two (2), to three (3) days of trial time.  Multiplying the hourly rate of your counsel ($150.00 to $250.00+ (per hour) [ed. in Ontario, the cost is between $250 to $500 per hour]  times one eight (8) hour day of trial reflects that you could easily incur attorney fees of $1200 to $2000 per day for the length of the trial.  If matters could be resolved or even partially resolved with a settlement conference, there will be a savings of money!

Savings of time: Time is “money” is often stated!  Domestic relations cases can be resolved over time by attorneys sending various settlement proposals back and forth by facsimile, scanning and email, or ordinary mail.  However, if the parties and their counsel elect to have a settlement conference, significant savings of time can be realized. The case might be “settled” or “resolved” quickly rather than over months of time.

Peace of mind: Going through a divorce or a dissolution is an emotional and sometimes “gut-wrenching” process.  Parties often experience physical symptoms of distress and anxiety in not knowing how the case is going to be “resolved”.  With resolution of disputed issues, the parties can experience peace of mind in knowing what is going to happen and how things are going to be resolved providing to each of them some “closure” without the discomfort,  angst, and expense of a trial.

Narrow the issues to be “tried” before the Court: Even if a settlement conference or conferences are not fruitful in resolving all issues, if some issues can be “settled” or “resolved” before the final hearing or trial, expenses of time and money can still be saved.  For example, if the parties commenced a settlement conference with six (6) disputed issues, to wit: (1) custody of the children, (2) parenting time schedule, (3) disposition of the marital residence, (4) division of retirement assets, (5) division of household goods and furnishings, (6) payment of marital liabilities, if any issues can be resolved at the time of the settlement conference, time and money can still be saved!

Even better than the simple four way meeting is the Collaborative Process. In this process, the parties and lawyers agree in writing that they won’t go to Court and they will work together to find a resolution of the issues together. Four way meetings no longer are intended to simply narrow the issues: there is a commitment to resolving issues.

If an impasse occurs, there are many ways of overcoming it such as getting experts to offer opinions, or by asking the Family Coach to help resolve parenting issues or the Financial Specialist  to help resolve the financial issues. Ultimately, you can use arbitration (you jointly hire someone to act as the judge who will make an order which is enforceable like a court order).

Even if you do not choose the Collaborative Process and end up in court, you will be forced to negotiate. About 97% of family law cases are resolved by agreement. The problem with negotiations as part of the court process is that you are negotiating in a pressure cooker – the court house. It is much more costly as there are so many more procedural steps and delays, and you must proceed according to the court imposed time lines. Nobody likes the court process. It should be seen as the "last resort".  The Collaborative process is much better.

Settlement meetings are magical. When two people who really want to get a resolution sit together with their settlement-oriented lawyers, it is amazing. Resolution of even the most difficult issues can be achieved. There are often bumps in the road but that’s normal. In the end, you will have an agreement that you helped craft and it will be achieved in a timely and cost-effective manner… even if you still don’t respect, trust or communicate well with your ex.