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Lawyer-Led Negotiation

The question of whether you need an attorney to handle your divorce is one that was not commonly asked a couple of decades ago. But times have changed, and today it is not uncommon for people to get divorced without any assistance from an attorney. Others are using attorneys in new ways, as the availability of alternative and complementary services increases. Law firms are restructuring in order to meet client needs, and many offer one-stop shopping, including financial planning, counseling, and career coaching. And the popular culture model of a War of the Roses type of court battle has gone by the wayside. Most attorneys, and their clients, now realize that out-of-court settlement, negotiated by the respective lawyers, is an easier, healthier, and more advantageous way to dissolve a marriage.

There are many reasons to keep attorneys involved in the divorce process; it is, after all, the dissolution of a legal contract, and a change in legal status. Obviously, a competent, experienced attorney understands terminology, procedure, the court system, and the legal code in ways that no lay person can. An attorney who specializes in divorce, moreover, likely has years of experience that can lend wisdom and insight to your specific case, improving your outcome and your overall satisfaction with your divorce.

At the same time, however, there can be disadvantages to involving attorneys in your divorce. Have you ever received an email from someone that rubbed you the wrong way, and then later talked to the person face-to-face about it and learned that they truly did not intend it to mean what you thought? It is common for people who are communicating without the benefit of face-to-face interaction to misinterpret parts of the communication. Of course the chance of this increases when people are going through a divorce and have had their trust eroded. You need to keep this in mind as you negotiate using a process that reduces or eliminates your direct interactions with your spouse.

Likewise, you need to be prepared for the possibility that negotiations can quickly turn adversarial. When lawyers are involved in the divorce process, the potential for going to court is always on the table. Lawyers frequently rely on their expectation of what a judge would do if the case went to court to fortify their bargaining position. That is, if you are likely to pay your spouse some amount of spousal support, your spouse's attorney is likely to use his or her experience with similar cases to determine whether this is a reasonable deal for your ex. If your ex's attorney thinks your current offer is too low, he or she is likely to threaten taking the case to a judge. Sometimes this is simply a tactic, but you need to discipline yourself to stay calm throughout the negotiation process, and let your attorney know what your absolute limits really are.

Even if you do hire an attorney, chances are you will ultimately wind up settling the issues (whatever those are in your specific case) in out-of-court negotiations. The vast majority of attorneys recognize that taking a case to trial is (usually) unnecessarily adversarial, time-consuming, and expensive, for everyone involved. As a result, your attorney will most likely work pretty hard to help you and your spouse work out the details and arrangements of your divorce without going to court.

Negotiations begin as soon as you hire a lawyer. You should make your priorities clear in your first meeting with legal counsel. He or she will then likely be in contact with your spouse's attorney, and the two will begin the process of give-and-take, consulting with you, drafting and redrafting documents, until there is an agreement that everyone can be happy with. In many cases, a face-to-face settlement conference can expedite matters; the four of you (two attorneys, two clients) get together in a conference room and just stay there until you've hashed out the details.

Ultimately, the goal is for you to walk away from your marriage with the least amount of unnecessary upset possible. In our experience, the client's satisfaction with his or her divorce is a direct reflection of how much control he or she had over the process. This almost invariably means that some kind of out-of-court settlement is preferable to a trial.

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Law Office of Sam Byrd
3828 Dayton Blvd
Chattanooga, TN 37415

Phone: 423-954-7949
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