It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but when it’s over, it’s over.

Final Orders are FINAL.  Be sure you can live with the outcome when reaching a settlement in divorce, custody or other Family Court cases.

By M. J. Goodwin

Divorce is unpleasant.  Custody disputes are unpleasant.  Child support matters are unpleasant.  Essentially everything in Family Court, with the exception of uncontested adoptions, are unpleasant.  I hear time and time again from clients that they “just want this to be over” or that they will “never settle.”  I certainly understand those sentiments.  But hurrying to a resolution or agreeing to terms without careful consideration of the outcome, just to get the case over, is usually not in the client’s best interest.  Conversely, prolonging the fight for the sake of the fight is never in the client’s best interest.

Well considered settlements, however, are usually in the client’s best interest.

So a litigant should have experienced counsel to help the litigant determine what is in the litigant’s best long term interest.   This is easier said than done in many cases.  Litigants come to the table with a lot of emotional baggage.   This emotional trauma often clouds judgment and manifests itself in two ways:  a desire to settle quickly or a resistance to settle at all.  Neither frame of mind is the best way to reach a resolution that will affect the litigant for the rest of the litigant’s life.

Some basic considerations for reaching a settlement are:  children need both parents; it is both parents’ responsibility to support their children; assets accumulated during the marriage are generally marital assets and subject to division; two households cost more money than one household and consequently, both parties’ standard of living will decrease; and it is important to be fair regardless of how one feels.   The most important revelation may be that the Court doesn’t care how the litigants “feel.”  The Court is concerned with evidence, fairness and what is in the best interest of children.     These broad ideas can be applied to most factual situations.

It is impossible to specify here what particular terms should be in any given final order.  What I can state, unequivocally, is that if an experienced lawyer is advocating a particular settlement, the client should carefully consider that particular settlement.  Family Court attorneys are paid by the hour.  An experienced litigator charges at least $250.00 per hour in the Anderson, South Carolina area.  A two day court appearance would result in $4000 in legal fees for the attorney, exclusive of the charges for trial preparation.  So it is not in the attorney’s financial best interest to encourage settlement.   Attorneys know, however, that a client who pushes for trial with no evidence will not be satisfied with the ruling in the long term.  Attorneys know that a client who settles for too little will regret that decision in five years, after the emotion settles.   In many instances, I can review a file and come pretty close to what a judge will rule on the case.  Most experienced domestic relations practitioners have similar ability.

Once the case is finalized, it is just that FINAL.  Matters pertaining to assets, debt and alimony can never be changed.  Matters pertaining to children can only be changed upon a showing of a substantial change of circumstances that result in the change sought being in the best interest of the children.  This is a much harder case to make than is the initial case.  So whether you listen to your attorney or not, the result is final and absent an appeal, which is pretty rare, you have to live with it.

The take away message is:  do not be ruled by your emotions, whether it is a desire to run or a desire to fight and listen to your competent, experienced Family Court attorney.  You are paying for advice and expertise.

M. J. Goodwin is the founding attorney of Goodwin Attorney at Law, LLC.  M. J. Goodwin has 22 years of experience in a wide array of Family Court matters, including but not limited to:  divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, asset division, restraining orders, DSS matters, DJJ matters, adoption, name changes and other Family Court issues.

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