I tell many clients that come to see me that 95% of the cases in family law court settle without ever going to trial. Whether it’s a divorce or paternity action, contempt or motion to modify, the vast majority of cases pending in the family court settle. There are times when cases settle within the first few months of litigation and there are those that settle on the day of trial; but when cases wind up not settling at all, it’s usually because someone is being unreasonable, and often it is the clients, not the attorneys.
There is a saying that “you dance with the girl who brung you,” and, in family law, I find that adage to be especially true. Choosing who to be in a relationship with was not the decision of your attorney, nor is the choice to end that relationship, but when the relationship goes south, you may find yourself in the office of an attorney. It’s important to know that the role of the attorney is to guide their clients through the process and advise them of their options. An attorney’s influence is limited, though, by the expectations and choices of the client, so that when someone either has unrealistic goals or is simply being unreasonable and won’t settle, the attorney can’t force the settlement, but can only take the situation provided to them and represent their client as zealously as possible.
It is frustrating to be in a situation where the other party is not amenable to settlement, both for the client and for the attorney. But understanding the limitations of the attorneys and the court system, and understanding the role of the parties as being ultimately responsible for the ability to settle a case, may help explain how cases proceed and what you can do to assist the process. Going to trial leaves the conclusion of your case in the hands of a stranger; settling a case means you have some control over the end result. Keeping your expectations realistic and understanding that you may need to compromise can help you reach a conclusion that is acceptable to all parties.