When there is a contested issue in a family law case, there are generally two ways that the issue will be resolved: either the judge will make a decision on the contested issue, or the parties will settle the issue themselves.
There are many benefits to settling a matter, and even in a case where it appears that there is no way that the parties will reach a resolution, exploring settlement options is a good idea (and sometimes required by the judge or rules of court).
Below is a list of several reasons that parties should be open-minded about the possibility of settling their contested issue. Sometimes, even in the most unlikely situation, parties are able to reach at least a partial agreement on issues because of the reasons outlined below.
Typically, if the attorney/party is filing a motion, the family law attorney must attempt settlement efforts in compliance with Minnesota General Rules of Practice 303.03 (c). This rule requires attorneys, 24 hours prior to any court hearing, to contact the other party within 7 days of filing a motion to attempt a settlement of the issues and to discuss what type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is appropriate in this case. There are exceptions to this requirement. If the case:
- is a IV-D case (meaning that it involves the county),
- if it is a contempt case, or
- if there is domestic abuse.
Either way, the family law attorney must assert to the court that there was either an attempt at settlement efforts within seven days of filing a motion, or explain to the court why no settlement was attempted.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The court may require the parties to participate in mediation or some other alternative form of dispute resolution prior to appearing in court. The purpose of ADR is to attempt settlement, and even if the parties don’t want to go, if there is a prior court order in the matter, the parties likely will have to attempt ADR before coming back to court.
Settlement is Cheaper
It costs money to prepare pleadings, there are filing fees, and if the family law attorney has to appear in court, the client pays for the attorney’s time. Depending on the county, the attorney might be at the court house for hours before the matter is heard. The biggest factor is to determine whether paying for the attorney’s prep work and time in court is worth what you hope to gain. Sometimes, a client may pay the attorney more than they would get in their best day in court.
Settlement is Guaranteed
Every family law attorney knows that when you appear in court, regardless of the case, there is a chance that a judge will do something out of left field. By settling the matter, the client knows exactly what he or she is getting out of the agreement. Additionally, it allows the parties to determine the outcome of their own case and the impact on their families.
Settlement is Faster
If an issue arises and the attorneys are able to work out an agreement prior to going to court, this will cut down on the time for the agreement to be followed. Oftentimes a motion hearing for a family law matter will take at least a month to be heard, depending on the court’s calendar.
A party’s family law attorney should take the time to discuss various settlement options and areas that the party is willing to negotiate. The family law attorney will provide his or her client with all settlement proposals and responses, so that their client can make an informed decision on whether to settle the issue, or press ahead and let the judge decide.