Before you even think of preparing for a trial make sure that you have exhausted all mediation and settlement negotiation possibilities. There are two costs in a trial: economic and psychological.
The economics of a trial are clear. Unless you are fighting about more than $15,000, a trial could not possibly make any economic sense whatsoever. It makes more sense for you and your spouse to keep the money in your family, even if that means paying more money to your spouse than you’d like to pay, rather than to pay more money to the lawyers to prepare for and hold a trial. The amount of trial preparation that goes into a case is enormous, even for the smallest trial. Trials don’t create money, and they don’t give you more hours in a day to spend with your children. The fees you’ll spend for your lawyer, your spouse’s lawyer, expert witness fees, psychologists, and anyone else who has to be paid as part of the process comes out of your joint pocketbook. Although a judge may allocate the fees to one or the other to pay, that still leaves less total money to divide up.
To make the fee situation even more expensive than it already is, a lawyer doesn’t want to take a chance of ruining someone’s life by doing a poor job in a trial. Your lawyer will want to make sure you have the best representation possible, for the best chance possible at a favorable outcome. As a result, your lawyer will probably over-prepare. This preparation could end up costing you a small fortune. In the end, you may not feel it was worth it, especially if you settle the case just hours before the trial is scheduled to start.
In psychological terms, it is never worthwhile to go to trial except in the most exigent circumstances. The amount of emotional damage which occurs between two spouses during a trial is immeasurable. Imagine how you will feel after you have said every unfavorable thing you can think of about your spouse, and he or she has said every unfavorable thing that he or she can think of about you. And he or she has probably exaggerated, misinterpreted, or made some things up (at least in your opinion!) about you. Now imagine sitting next to this person at your child’s wedding. Imagine running into him or her at the grocery store. Imagine trying to call a former mutual friend. It won’t be easy to live in the same community after a trial, and it will be even harder to effectively co-parent your children. When you’re thinking about whether to take your case to trial, don’t just count the dollars and cents. You need to consider the emotional aspects as well.
Before you proceed to a trial, make sure that what you are fighting over will matter five years from now. If it will not, then find a way to settle.
Take this time to make sure you have done your research. See http://www.peace-talks.com/divorceinformation.php. Also be sure to visit the Peace Talks resource center at http://www.peace-talks.com/resources.php
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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