A Settlement is a mutually agreed upon resolution to a legal dispute which is worked out between both parties prior to a ruling being made by a judge.
It is common for custody cases to be settled prior to going to trial.
Often, the legal professionals involved, including the attorneys, the guardian ad-litem, the custody and psychological evaluators and even the judges will encourage both parties to "cut a deal" and save the expense, and emotional trauma of going to trial.
In many jurisdictions the parties are required to meet with a mediator or "special masters" panel before their case can be brought to trial. These sessions are designed to try to work out a mutually agreed upon settlement.
The advantages of an out of court settlement include:
Lower legal costs. trials can be very expensive as attorneys, evaluators, guardians and expert witnesses all have to be paid for their time.
Less emotional trauma - Custody trials are brutal affairs - which generally focus on the negatives rather than the positives of your personality and parenting abilities. Even when you win your case - there is little to celebrate at the end.
Damage to children - If the children are old enough to know what is going on, a custody dispute can be a dreadful experience as they watch the two people who matter to them most hurt one another. Even infants can be hurt in the process as they have to live under the care of a house at war with itself. It is also common for children of divorce to search, later in life for records related to their case (after all who isn't curious?). Court records, evaluation reports, articles of evidence, accusations made, all can become matters of public record and the discovery of these later in life can be very traumatic for the children. Files containing trial records may be kept around for decades and discovered later in life when the parties involved become careless, incapacitated or deceased.
The risk of an unfavorable ruling - When you go to court, you ask a judge - a complete stranger who does not know you - to make a decision about your money, your children, your money and your possessions. The judges decision stay with you for the rest of your life. There is no guarantee that the judge will "get it".
All of these are valid reasons why most custody cases settle out of court.
The assumption in most cases is that when push comes to shove, most rational people will come to some sort of compromise in which everybody gives up something and everybody gets something of what they want.
The model for this is that when both parties want it all - the fairest and best resolution is when they meet in the middle.
When dealing with people who have personality disorders, the logic often breaks down.
People with personality disorders frequently:
- fight dirty
- lie to get what they want
- believe and report things which aren't true
- fail to keep their agreements
- change their minds
- are incapable of objectively determining what is in the best interests of the children.
- expose their children to abuse, neglect and unnecessary risks.
lf you are divorcing a person with a personality disorder, it is highly likely that that you will be unable to cut a deal which is truly in the best interests of the children. In such a situation, it is important to put the best interests of your children's safety, stability and well-being ahead of any desire to just be done with it.
That may mean going all the way through trial and demonstrating the merits of your case to a judge. It may mean going far enough through the legal process until you have enough evidence in the form of custody and psychological evaluations and the advice of your soon-to-be-ex's attorney that you can force the hand of your spouse into accepting a deal which is in the best interests of your children.
In most cases, it will mean putting your children's safety ahead of your own financial objectives and doing whatever it takes to protect them.
It may cost you dearly - but much is at stake.