Negotiations and Settlements in Connecticut Divorce
Thinking about divorce as a battle with a clear winner can create expectations that do not align with reality. Often in a divorce, both sides must make compromises and concessions to resolve issues. The most common and effective tool in reaching a satisfactory outcome is negotiation.
Just as in business, negotiations concerning a divorce, or a family law matter, often center around leverage and a keen understanding of the interests of all the parties involved. At Needle | Cuda, we pride ourselves on being competent negotiators and skilled counselors who will listen to our client’s goals and use every available resource to secure a satisfactory and favorable outcome. In reaching a settlement, we seek to use our negotiation prowess to get our clients what they deserve without overplaying our hand. Our years of experience representing individuals going through a divorce give us a decisive advantage over less skilled lawyers, which often translates to a successful and advantageous resolution of any divorce or family law matter.
Taking A Step Back
Divorces that end up entrenched in years of litigation have a few things in common. The most obvious and consistent commonality is that emotions continue to run high throughout the process. Couples who cannot detach the pain and anguish that caused the breakdown of the marriage from the negotiation process are bound to reach an impasse and wind up in front of a judge who will then decide for them. To be sure, sometimes that outcome cannot be avoided, but couples who can take a step back and view divorce and the negotiation process as a means to an end can avoid that pitfall.
Compartmentalizing and viewing the divorce process separately from what caused it is no easy feat; many people struggle with that task. However, the couples that have been successful in that endeavor routinely seek the help of professional therapists and counselors to help them process the trauma and pain associated with their divorce and achieve a tight focus on the issues currently at hand. The clarity that this can provide is invaluable and is never regretted. While neither side can force the other to explore this path, the odds of a successful resolution significantly increase, even if just one party can take a step back and focus on the issues.
Managing Expectations in your Divorce
Many couples begin their divorce by drawing a hard line in the sand concerning what they want and expect out of the process. These expectations can stem from emotion or a desire for retribution. While these feelings are understandable and, in some cases, justifiable, they may present a barrier to a swift and favorable settlement. When thinking about the goals of a legal separation or divorce, it is often helpful to roughly outline the major and minor outcomes that the parties wish to achieve. Clearly defining what the interests are instead of specific demands can illuminate what is essential and why certain requests are being made. It is important to remember throughout this process that inflexibility is no one’s friend, and making concessions is not a sign of weakness. A divorce settlement is often more of a business decision and should be treated as such.
Keys to Negotiating a Connecticut Divorce
There are many ways to negotiate. Some like to play hardball, while others use leverage and goodwill to get what they seek. Regardless of the method employed, a few fundamental tenets can aid in any negotiation. We urge our clients to consider important points when negotiating their divorce settlement.
Resist Burning Bridges
Unless the relationship was abusive, going to a scorched earth policy and destroying the relationship is often not productive and, in some cases, can directly harm our client’s interests. If there are children involved or assets shared amongst the parties, then it is likely that they will need to work together moving forward.
With just about every relationship, each side has their version of events and what they perceive caused the breakdown. While it is unnecessary to agree with the other side’s perception, acknowledging that their version exists may allow negotiations to begin in earnest or cause a once firmly held position to become flexible. Parties who were once married can often accurately deduce what will trigger their former partner and what will cause them to open up. Avoiding triggers and embracing an empathic approach can help get the parties what they want and reduce acrimony.
Honest and direct communication throughout the negotiation and settlement process is paramount. If a spouse feels disrespected and belittled, they will be less amenable to compromise and more susceptible to stonewall tactics. Again, negotiations aim to reach a settlement, and communicating dishonestly or disrespectfully can only impede the progress toward accomplishing that end.
Through the help and investigation of counsel, a party who has access to financial records, asset valuations, and discovery information will be well prepared to enter into the negotiation process armed with all the ammunition necessary to reach a settlement that is equitable and meets their needs. Being unprepared or less prepared than the other side can put a client at a distinct disadvantage and ultimately can result in them not receiving what they are entitled to.
Transparency And Trust
While it may be appropriate in specific situations for a party to hold their cards close to their chest, it is never productive to be deceitful or lack transparency. If both sides genuinely want to settle the matter, open and fair negotiations are preferred over attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of the other party. Nefarious tactics only serve to erode trust, and if that happens, the issue will inevitably end up in lengthy and costly litigation.
The Settlement Process
Fruitful negotiations will lead to a settlement that all parties accept. In drafting a settlement agreement, we not only want to ensure that our client’s goals are met but also that the agreement complies with the applicable laws. The latter aspect is particularly vital because a settlement that is inconsistent with the law will be invalid. Our lawyers take great care in listening to what our clients need their settlement to include and drafting it in a way that will be enforceable. Under Connecticut law, there are three types of divorce actions. Divorces that cannot come to a settlement agreement (also known as contested divorces) must go in front of a judge to be decided. The two other types of divorces will require a settlement agreement.
Also known as a simplified divorce, these actions are designed for marriages without children and lacking significant assets. To qualify for this type of divorce, you cannot have been married for more than ten years. You cannot have any real estate interests, and your combined total assets must be under $80,000. You cannot have a defined pension plan or a pending bankruptcy. You cannot be receiving Title XIX nursing home/home-care benefits. You cannot have another divorce action pending, and you cannot have an order of protection issued. You must file a joint petition, including a settlement agreement, a financial affidavit, and other court forms.
Divorce With An Agreement
This type of uncontested divorce, called Divorce With an Agreement, allows you to waive the 90-day waiting period. You can obtain this type of divorce even if you have children and a substantial marital estate. However, parents of minor children must attend a parenting education program within 60 days of filing. One party initiates the proceedings by filing a divorce petition and numerous other court forms. However, the parties should lay the groundwork for their agreement before filing. Reaching an agreement takes substantial commitment, hard work, and cooperation. Parties can reach an agreement through traditional negotiation, mediation, or collaborative processes.
In either type of divorce, the mechanisms of negotiation and settlement largely remain the same. The divorce will not be complete until all issues are agreed upon and contained in the settlement agreement. It is important to note that all settlements will not be considered official until the court approves them. Settlements that are incomplete or contain provisions that do not comport with the law may be rejected.
Drafting Settlement (a.k.a. Separation) Agreements
Having an experienced family law attorney draft the divorce settlement agreement is always recommended. Both sides must agree for a settlement to occur. Negotiations will alleviate the contentious issues, but drafting the agreement takes skill and knowledge of the law. Our CT divorce lawyers know this and have expertise in crafting a settlement agreement that uses language effectively and clearly. Remember, a settlement agreement that is unclear or cannot be easily interpreted by the parties will be useless.
The drafting process will be reasonably straightforward for divorces without children or significant assets. Still, attention to detail and accuracy are essential regardless of the parties’ net worth. Timely filing legal documents and keeping our clients abreast of what will be required is another crucial aspect of any divorce. No settlement is complete without all parties fully understanding what it says, not just what they think it says.
Settlements Must Be Clear And Enforceable
Complex or high-value divorces can have settlement agreements that are extensive and difficult for the layperson to understand. Still, even in those cases, we aim to draft an agreement that addresses all the issues in a clear and enforceable way. In high-value divorces, the need for counsel familiar with advanced financial vehicles and complicated transactions and assets is even more present. Coordinating with financial institutions, pension boards, and corporate entities should not be left to an inexperienced divorce attorney. At Needle | Cuda, our divorce lawyers specialize in these cases and know how to draft a settlement agreement that will effectively resolve even the most complex, high-value divorce.
For divorces that involve children, the settlement agreement may need to include provisions concerning child support and custody. These issues can present unique drafting challenges because they may need to be altered in the future. Drafting a visitation schedule that allows for flexibility and includes the possibility for modification can be helpful to futureproof the agreement.
Negotiation, settlement, and the finalization of your divorce are all critical steps in dissolving your marriage. While there is no one right way to tackle them, there are things that experienced family law attorneys will do to ensure that they are done in a way that produces a favorable outcome.
At Needle | Cuda, we know how important it is to walk away from your divorce feeling like you were treated fairly and received what you are entitled to. The way we approach the negotiation and settlement process will place you in the optimal position to resolve your divorce and move on with your life satisfactorily. To schedule a consultation with a Needle | Cuda divorce lawyer, call us today at (203) 429-4151 or contact our Westport office online.
Frequently Asked Questions about Negotiating a Connecticut Divorce
The preferred way to resolve any issue is through an agreement between the divorcing Parties. But that may not always be possible, especially if the other side is not being reasonable. There is likely an extensive emotional history with your spouse. If there was abuse or manipulation, it might not be good to negotiate directly with your ex. Relying on your lawyer to be the point of contact for negotiations is recommended as they will be able to listen openly and communicate your demands without emotion or bitterness.
When you have counsel, the first step will be consulting and explaining your goals and expectations for the divorce to your attorney. This is not about blame or revenge but rather what you envision as a satisfactory outcome. Your attorney will then communicate with your spouse's attorney (if they have retained one) and begin the negotiation process. If your goals align with your spouse's, a settlement agreement will be drafted. If you cannot agree on issues, initial offers may be countered, and counteroffers will likely be made. It is not unusual for couples to disagree on custody or the division of marital assets. Your law firm will propose compromises or arrangements to give both sides what they are looking for and reach a settlement.
Negotiation is an ongoing process. Stalled negotiations are typical and do not necessarily signal that litigation is in the future. The discovery process is likely to begin if a trial date is set. When this happens, the disclosure of financial documents and asset valuation can tip the scales in favor of one party. This can have the effect of bringing the parties back to the negotiation table and restarting the process. In some cases, the passage of time between negotiation sessions can soften a firm position once held by a party, making them amenable to compromise.
While neither party can be forced to negotiate, some things can be done to pressure one side to be open to the possibility of a settlement. If either party refuses to negotiate, there are limited options for how the divorce can proceed. Litigation is one option, but so are arbitration and mediation. For many couples, the cost and uncertainty of litigation may cause them to at least listen to what is being offered by the other side. Similarly, arbitration cannot begin unless the parties first agree to submit to it and agree on who will be the arbitrator. If a party is firm that they will not negotiate, then it is unlikely that they will be amenable to agreeing to arbitration and all the rules attached to it. This leaves only litigation as the way to resolve the divorce completely.
When your assets or time with your children are at stake, you will want a trained family law attorney fighting for your interests. While it is possible to negotiate a divorce settlement without an attorney, it is not advisable. Many people are unfamiliar with the negotiation process and are not comfortable making demands or using leverage to arrive at a compromise. Again, divorce, for many couples, is an emotional experience. That emotion often clouds judgment and can result in someone holding on to an untenable position. Having an experienced family law attorney can help bring both parties down to earth and remind them to detach their emotions from the legal process to get the best result.
The discovery process can require both sides to disclose their full financial history. Your lawyer can gather the information necessary to get a complete picture of your spouse's income and assets through court-ordered subpoenas and depositions. If your spouse refuses to comply with a subpoena, the court can issue sanctions to force their cooperation. Your lawyer can also hire private investigators and forensic accountants to get to the bottom of your spouse's finances. Once the discovery process is complete, the fears surrounding hidden assets can resolve, and the negotiation process can begin.
A divorce settlement agreement is a document that describes how the issues like the division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony will be resolved. The terms and conditions of the agreement must comply with Connecticut law. As the name implies, both parties must agree upon a settlement. A settlement agreement is not the end of the divorce process, however. It still must be approved by the court before the divorce can be finalized. When your divorce settlement agreement is approved by the court and "entered" into the record, it is referred to as a Divorce Decree.
What you consider a favorable settlement depends on how you define your goals and aspirations. Being transparent and upfront with your lawyer about your expectations is the first step toward getting what you feel entitled to from your settlement. It is important to note that it is unlikely that any party will get everything they request. Compromises and concessions are a part of the process, but you must have a clear vision for your future. Keeping an open mind and appropriately calibrating your expectations can clear the path toward a fair and favorable settlement.
The settlement agreement will become a court order once the court accepts and approves it. If your spouse or any other party mentioned in the order does not comply, they can be brought up on contempt of court charges. The judge hearing that case has judicial powers to force a party to comply. This can be done by fines and, in some cases, jail time.
This is practice area referred to as a Post Judgment Modification.
Some aspects of a divorce settlement agreement can be modified in the future. Issues like child custody, child support, and alimony are usually ongoing and, as such, may need to be modified. But they can only be altered by agreement or due to a substantial change in circumstances. If the parties cannot agree to change the settlement, then the party asking for the modification must petition the court. While there is no uniform definition of a substantial change in circumstances, the court will likely look to a list of factors to determine if a change is necessary. Usually, a significant change in income can warrant a reduction in support or alimony. Still, that is not the only factor the court will look at, and if it can be shown that there was an intentional attempt at reducing income, a modification of the settlement agreement may be denied.
Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law
Negotiating a Connecticut Divorce
Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law
830 Post Road East, Ste. 301,Westport, CT,Lower Fairfield County Connecticut-06880,
Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Wilton, Southport, Ridgefield, and Fairfield, Connecticut -- including the surrounding towns and communities.
Successful negotiation of a Connecticut Divorce is always the first, best option. This is referred to as a "Divorce with Agreement." Or, if certain requirements are met, it is a "Non-Adversarial Divorce." . A divorce settlement is often more of a business decision and should be treated as such. Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law successfully negotiates Connecticut Divorces.