Good lawyers use tools other than the courtroom to get results for clients. A trial is one way to resolve your case, but not necessarily the best way. Good lawyers try to settle their cases after they have analyzed the case. A lawyer that pushes court as your only option may be doing you a disservice. The majority of contested divorces settle without a trial, and there are several tools available to assist you in the process. Once you have done your homework, and know what a court may do at trial, consider the following options:
1. Judicial Settlement Conference: A judicial settlement conference is a meeting, guided by a judge, to help parties settle a lawsuit. In some counties they are mandatory, while in others the parties must request them. One benefit is cost. The court does not charge for the settlement conference, but your lawyer will charge you for his or her time. Usually, what happens at a settlement conference is confidential to make sure parties feel good about making their best offers. What happens at the conference? Usually the judge will meet with both sides to see where there is middle ground. The judge may help the parties and lawyers by giving their opinion of what should happen in a case. If the parties reach an agreement, the court can put the settlement on the record on the spot.
2. Mediation: Mediation is a way of resolving a dispute in which an impartial person (the mediator) helps you discuss your case and, if possible, reach a voluntary agreement. The mediator helps you think about your needs, clarify your differences, and find common ground.
Oregon courts require mediation for custody and parenting time disputes. The benefit of county mediation is that it is free. Lawyers do not attend. The downside is that you likely cannot resolve your case if it involves financial or property issues. Also, your county mediation department may be overwhelmed with cases, and they may not have enough time or energy to get both parties to “yes.”
Good lawyers steer clients towards private mediator, if appropriate for the case. In private mediation, the parties jointly hire an expert to help resolve a dispute. The expert is usually a retired judge or experienced divorce lawyer. Usually the lawyers attend to provide guidance. The parties pay the mediator for his or her services (the best mediators in Oregon charge $250-$300 per hour) and pay for their lawyer’s time. While expensive, if you reach a resolution, it is generally less expensive and less stressful than having a trial. Unlike court, you have the opportunity to reach a flexible and creative solution to your dispute. Most important, the result is voluntary, rather than imposed on you by a judge you just met.
Make sure to talk to your lawyer about your dispute resolution options other than the courtroom. While a courtroom may be necessary, you have other options. Talk about these options with your lawyer to see if they are right for you.