Not long ago, I spent the afternoon in court with a woman I had been representing for more than a year. Her divorce is complicated by the fact that her husband, who has fired his attorney and decided to represent himself, refuses to negotiate with me. He insists that he and “his wife” will work-out “settlement terms.” My client feels tremendous pressure to just be done. Who can blame her?
For many people, the desire to “finish” their divorce can be overwhelming. The anxiety about going to court and the uncertainty about what their future holds can make an unfair settlement seem better than no settlement at all.
These situations worry me.
No one disagrees that people can reach whatever settlement they believe is in their best interests. It’s the hallmark of our judicial system. People are free to attach different values to different priorities.
What worries me, though, is when the pressure of the process makes people feel that an unequal settlement (without justification) is better than the decision we might get from a judge. It makes me worry because six months from now (when the smoke clears), I won’t be able to fix the deal.
Some lawyers don’t worry about these types of problems. They say, “It’s not my fault. The client was the one who made the bad deal.” And to a certain extent, they’re right. It isn’t my fault. The client did make a bad deal. But that doesn’t sit well with me. I care a lot about my clients. Some of them even become friends later.
Here’s what I tell people who get the itch to “just settle” their case:
First, go for a run or do yoga.
It’s what I do when I get stressed (and yes, even a nasty divorce lawyer like me gets stressed). Running helps clear my mind. Things don’t seem as bad after a long run. If you don’t believe me, believe research from Harvard Medical School.
Waiting to make a decision until after you finish exercising will help keep you focused on what really matters.
Second, unplug for at least 2 hours – preferably 2 days.
Did I ever tell you how much I hate email? It’s the best, worst invention of all time. No matter how hard I try, it seems like once a week my mood is soured by a nastygram I receive from someone. Taking time away from technology helps you think better. Again, you don’t have to believe me. Read Sleeping with your Smartphone
If, after a break, the deal still seems like the right thing for you, then maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
Third, make a list of what you think will be better after your divorce is over.
Settling a divorce has benefits, lots of them. But sometimes the benefits you get aren’t the ones you’re chasing.
Some people settle divorces because they believe doing so will appease an overbearing spouse. Usually, this doesn’t work. Difficult or controlling people aren’t motivated by one or two key issues. The problem is more systemic. Giving-up on issues that are important to you simply shifts the focus elsewhere.
Put your pro / con list down on paper. Share it with family and friends. Talk to your lawyer. Many times, there are things a divorce lawyer can do to help meet your goals while your divorce is ongoing.
What happened to my client? She stayed the course. Things are okay. And at least for now, she has resisted the urge to “settle” at all costs.