By: Sylwia M. L’Esperance, Paralegal
Divorce does not have to spark negative thoughts and awaken a desire to start a war between spouses. Although tension and disagreements are most likely to occur down the road as the divorce process tends to be arduous and often thorny, there are avenues that attorneys may utilize to help the spouses relieve the pain and encourage settlement negotiations that also promote a more cost-effective approach to divorce.
Often, attorneys are inclined to conduct a four-way settlement conference at the onset of the matter where both counsel and their clients sit down and attempt to hash out disputed issues in a more informal and amicable environment. The rhythm of the meeting can range from very friendly and engaging debates to the point that all parties may wonder why these folks are getting divorced, crying sessions that interfere with the true purpose of the meeting or screaming matches that escalate to slamming doors and storming off threatening litigation. No matter the outcome, the informality of the four-way conference allows all parties involved to meet face-to-face, present their positions without fear and receive answers instantly. This meeting also serves to be cathartic because it also allows the parties to release bottled up emotions.
It is crucial for attorneys to adequately prepare for a four-way settlement meeting. Preferably, attorneys should prepare their clients’ case information statements and gather financial disclosures to supply prior to or at the conference. Proper preparation is key to a successful four-way meeting. The meeting may occur after or prior to the filing of a complaint for divorce. The advantages of holding the settlement conference prior to the complaint filing include the opportunity to negotiate virtually all divorce terms and leave the meeting with a term sheet outlining the essential provisions that will be ultimately memorialized in a matrimonial settlement agreement. Having a fully executed agreement prior to the complaint filing significantly shortens court proceedings.
Indeed, four-way settlement meetings have a magnitude of benefits and represent an excellent starting point in a divorce litigation. While not all attorneys or parties will agree to “play nice in the sandbox”, those who do have nothing to lose and a lot to gain including the opportunity to assess the other party’s position and most importantly a potential to settle or at least make progress toward final resolution and closure.