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Divorce Confidential: How to Prepare for a Settlement Meeting

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In a previous blog post, I discussed the benefits of choosing a negotiated divorce over a litigated one and explained the differences between the two. In a negotiated divorce, one of the ways that you and your spouse can resolve issues is through a settlement meeting.

A settlement meeting allows you and your spouse to sit in a conference room, face to face, in hopes of keeping key issues out of Court and moving your divorce to a speedy conclusion. While the goal is to resolve all the issues in a settlement conference, it is not always guaranteed that these issues will be settled in this meeting, especially if things become heated during negotiation.

So is there anything you can do to avoid moving your negotiated divorce into a litigated one? Here are some simple pointers to keep in mind when you are about to enter into your settlement meeting:

1. Keep Your Emotions Out: In one settlement conference that I attended, one spouse used the meeting as an opportunity to lay out her emotions about all the wrongdoing that had occurred during the marriage. While it is important to express your opinion and communicate your feelings during this complicated season of your life, the purpose of a settlement meeting is to resolve issues and move forward, not to rehash the past. By keeping your emotions out of the settlement meeting, you are recognizing that a divorce is simply a business transaction, whereby you and your spouse are outlining the legal terms to dissolve your marriage. Laura Wasser, a Los Angeles celebrity divorce attorney, points to this rule of thumb when divorcing in her new book It Doesn't Have To Be That Way: How To Divorce Without Destroying Your Family Or Bankrupting Yourself. Keep your emotions out of the transaction and the path towards resolving your divorce will be a lot more seamless.

2. Be Willing To Compromise: In my prior blog post outlining the differences between a negotiated and litigated divorce, I explained that in order to move forward in a negotiated divorce, you have to be willing to compromise. In a divorce, there are no real "winners" or "losers" because at some point each of you will walk away without getting everything that you had wished for. There has to be a certain amount of compromise in order to resolve your case. To successfully compromise, you will need to be willing to hear the other side and the reasons behind their position. Be willing to listen and you may soon realize that your spouse may be tempted to extend the same courtesy and be willing to listen to you as well. A settlement meeting will provide you and your spouse with a platform to negotiate and figure out a plan that you both are willing to accept.

3. Ask Questions, Take A Break, Ask For Time: A settlement meeting will give you an opportunity to hash out details of your divorce without the pressure of a Court issuing a ruling at the end of the day. If you are in a settlement meeting and you don't understand the legal jargon or terms being stated, be sure to speak up and ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask your attorney to explain everything to you. What will this mean for you? What will it look like in real time? No question is a stupid question since the terms agreed to will determine your future. If you need a break and need time to process what is being negotiated or offered, ask for this time and each person in the meeting should respect your request for a break. In a recent settlement conference that I attended, one spouse sat in a corner, did not participate and relied on her attorney for the outcome. This is your future, you need to be invested in the outcome and so you need to be involved throughout the entire process.

While in some cases one settlement meeting is sufficient to resolve all of your issues, some divorces require multiple meetings to finalize the terms of the divorce. If your divorce requires several settlement meetings, it is important to note that any prior meetings are not without benefit since they are ALL stepping stones to resolution. Open communication during the settlement conference and in between meetings is key to keep things moving forward and get you to where you want to be.