Settling without Settling in a Bucks County Divorce
Many people beginning the divorce process in Bucks County have the misconception that there is no alternative to spending months, if not years, shuffling in and out of courtrooms, resolving the issues of their particular case. I call it a misconception, because a considerable percentage of my clients going through divorce in Doylestown, Newtown and other parts of Bucks County do not step into a courtroom even once, or, at most, it is just once and no more.
You may be wondering how this could be. Does it mean that my clients are “giving up the farm” just to stay out of court? Does it mean that my clients somehow are more amicable than the vast majority of divorcing couples out there? Does it mean that the court system has no impact or place in such cases? The answer to all of these questions is no.
I will address the last theory first. The way in which the court system operates is of utmost importance in each and every negotiation. As you go back and forth with opposing counsel/opposing party, and as you consider and generate counteroffers, you must understand the legal landscape in which you are operating. Stated differently, you have to consider what likely would happen if you had to go to court to resolve your differences.
How to Stay out of a Courtroom – Example of a Divorcing Couple in Doylestown
Let me illustrate this concept with an example of a divorcing couple in Doylestown. John (age 46) and Jane (age 45) have been married for 21 years, and John outearns Jane 5 times over ($300,000 vs. $60,000), as a result of Jane staying home and taking care of their 3 children throughout most of their marriage. John’s attorney contacts Jane’s attorney and offers a 50/50 division of assets, along with an alimony term of 5 years. John’s attorney states: “This is a final offer, or we can go to court, and your client will fare far worse.” Jane contacts her attorney, very stressed, and says that it seems fair enough, and she does not want to go to court to try and get more; the division of assets is equal, and 5 years is a long time, so why bother fighting just to lose – just accept what they offered.
A seasoned attorney, well- experienced in Pennsylvania family law, would know that this case would not “just go to court,” if Jane made a counteroffer that involved a more disparate division of assets and a longer alimony term, considering the length of the marriage and income disparity between the parties. Rather, if Jane’s counteroffer is reasonable (not 70/30 asset division plus 15 years of alimony), it is more than likely that John’s attorney would encourage him to accept same, again provided that his attorney is one who focuses on family law and understands its intricacies. John’s attorney would know that his client cannot expect to attain a result consistent with the terms of his settlement offer, and if anything, what the Master/Judge orders may be worse than that which Jane is offering.
On a related note, you can see that giving in from an initial bargaining position does not involve “giving in” overall. Rather, it involves giving in to the point where both sides have made strategic compromises and do better than they would by going to court, especially after considering the attorney’s fees and risks associated
with having a third party make the determination as to what is equitable for both parties. Additionally, by structuring the agreement outside of the court system, the parties can effectuate unique arrangements that the Master/Judge would not order.
For instance, John could allow Jane 3 years to refinance the mortgage on the marital residence, instead of the typical 90 days, thereby allowing her and the 3 children to stay in the marital residence through the youngest child’s high school graduation. Jane could allow for the alimony to be calculated by considering John’s base salary and bonus income only, allowing him to retain the equity-based compensation he receives. This give and take allows both parties to preserve what is most important to them. And, while such negotiations certainly are easier when the parties have amicable relations, even parties who barely talk to each other can make this work, by considering the process from a business perspective and remembering that the law cannot address the emotional turmoil that divorce creates; the law can only address the financial turmoil that divorce creates.
All in all, with a knowledgeable Bucks County divorce attorney in your corner, you do not have to deplete your hard-earned income and marital estate on a fight that easily could be avoided with the right strategic approach.