This blog is written for divorces taking place in Washington state.

Collaborative Negotiations Between Spouses

This is probably the simplest way to resolve your divorce outside of court. Some people refer to this as “kitchen table negotiations”. This is just a collaborative discussion between you and your spouse wherein you come up with agreed terms to resolve all issues in your divorce including but not limited to division of assets and liabilities, parenting plan, child support, spousal support, and attorney’s fees.

Tips for a successful collaborative negotiation session.

  • 1. Schedule a block of time to talk with your spouse. Make sure you schedule it out far enough that both of you can show up to the meeting prepared and ready to engage in a full conversation about all issues.
  • 2. Speak with a lawyer if desired. It is always advisable to have at least an initial consultation with a lawyer before you sit down with your spouse and engage in settlement discussions. The lawyer can often give you some really good advice and talking points for negotiations during a consultation, and you can hire them to provide further advice if needed. Even a one-time meeting with an attorney can make you feel way more confident during settlement discussions with your spouse.
  • 3. It is advisable to prepare an outline ahead of time to bring with you for the conversation which outlines your desires on all topics including division of assets and liabilities, parenting plan, child support, spousal support, and attorney’s fees.
  • 4. Bring your relevant financial information with you to ensure you can reference exact numbers and accounts as needed.
  • 5. Create a spreadsheet ahead of time that includes all of your major assets and debts. This will help to ensure you don’t forget to discuss all of them.
  • 6. If you have children, make sure that you come prepared with your proposed shared schedule for the children.

Family Law Judicial Settlement Conference

A Family Law Judicial Settlement Conference is a conference meeting that can sometimes be requested (depending on your county’s local rules) between both parties and a judicial officer who is not the assigned judicial officer to your case. The judicial officer acts similarly to a mediator and helps to facilitate a conversation between the parties to see if they can agree on a resolution for their divorce.

How do I request a settlement conference?

How you are able to request a settlement conference with a Judge depends on the local rules of your county. I am an attorney practicing in Clark County, Washington. In general, the instructions below are for how you request a settlement conference in my county (your county may be similar but you would need to check with your local courthouse to verify).

If there is an agreement between the parties to request a settlement conference, then all parties must jointly complete, sign, and file with the Clark County Clerk a Notice to Set Judicial Settlement Conference using the form prescribed and approved by the court.

Here is the link for the required form.

At the same time, the party filing the Notice shall provide a copy of the Notice to the assigned Family Law Judge.

If there is no agreement between the parties to request a settlement conference, then the person requesting a judicial settlement conference shall complete, sign, and file a Notice of Hearing for a Judicial Settlement Conference using the form prescribed and approved by the court. Here is the link for the required form. The request may then be heard by the assigned family law Commissioner or Trial Judge, and they will make a decision regarding whether or not to allow the settlement conference to be scheduled.

Important notes: In Clark County, WA, a settlement conference cannot be held if your case is scheduled for trial in 45 days or sooner.

What are the benefits of attending a settlement conference?

Attending a settlement conference provides a constructive environment for both parties to have an open discussion with the settlement conference Judge present as a third party neutral. The parties will be able to discuss and get feedback from the Judge on what a reasonable outcome may look like for the case.
There is no cost to attend a settlement conference in Clark County, WA. Neither party will pay any fees or costs if they are self-represented.

Do I need to submit any materials to the Judge prior to my settlement conference?

Yes. At least ten (10) days before the judicial settlement conference each party shall supply a Settlement Conference Statement and Proposed Property and Debt Division Attachment to the other party and to the settlement conference judge. The parties shall use the form prescribed and approved by the court. Each party shall file a Proof of Mailing or Hand Delivery with the Clerk after the statement has been submitted. The Settlement Conference Statements shall not be filed with the Clerk or shared with the assigned trial judge. The Statements are only to be shared with the settlement conference judge to help ensure the parties can speak freely during the settlement discussions without fear of them being used against them at a potential trial if no settlement can be reached.

The link for more information about settlement conferences and the required forms can be found here.

Private Family Law Mediation

Mediation is a private meeting or series of meetings with a third-party professional mediator to help facilitate a discussion between the parties to reach a final resolution to their divorce case.

To request a private mediation, both parties must be in agreement to pursue mediation. If the parties are in agreement to pursue mediation, then the parties shall agree on which mediator to work with. The mediators will always provide a list of what is needed in preparation for mediation. The mediator will charge a fee for their services. It is common for parties to share this cost to help ensure everyone has some skin in the game.

What are the benefits of private mediation?

Attending mediation can be beneficial as it allows both parties to have an open discussion with a neutral third-party professional regarding their positions in the case while also receiving constructive guidance about a reasonable resolution. I have found the most effective mediators to be prior family law Judges (who now do mediation services after retiring from being a Judge) or really seasoned family law lawyers who offer mediation services. They are in the best position to talk to spouses about realistic expectations regarding what may happen if they don’t agree and go to court instead. I have found that parties are more realistic about settlement when they are advised about what they can realistically expect if they go to court instead.

Mediation-Arbitration

Mediation-Arbitration includes the mediation process described above except for if the parties cannot come to an agreement through mediation, then the mediator becomes an arbiter and makes a binding decision. An arbiter is essentially a private Judge that can make binding decisions about the parties’ divorce, much like a Judge would in court. It is essentially a private less formal trial. Similar to mediation, both parties must be in agreement in order to proceed with mediation-arbitration.

How do I request mediation-arbitration?

As stated above, parties may only request/proceed with mediation-arbitration if both parties are in agreement. If there is an agreement, then the parties shall seek a mediator/arbiter and enter an Agreed Order for Mediation-Arbitration with the court. Once a mediator/arbiter is chosen by the parties and secured, the parties should follow their instructions/requests in order to proceed.

What are the benefits of Mediation-Arbitration?

Mediation-arbitration allows parties to try and reach an agreement first through mediation. However, it guarantees that a resolution will be reached in the end, because eventually the mediator/arbiter will simply make a final decision that is binding if an agreement can’t be reached. This process typically allows for a final divorce resolution to occur more quickly than if the parties proceeded with court instead.

A formal family law trial/court also comes with substantial legal procedures and requirements, whereas mediation-arbitration is often a much less formal environment which can be less stressful and easier to navigate than court.

Consult a Family Law Attorney in Vancouver Washington

Finalizing a divorce can be extremely stressful, time-consuming, expensive and most parties do not want to go to court. Often, utilizing alternative dispute resolution options, such as those described above, can alleviate a lot of those issues and resolve divorces in a more amicable fashion than going to court.

Trying to resolve your divorce is often very overwhelming and scary. It is always advisable, at a minimum, to do at least a one-time consultation meeting with an attorney to have them review your situation and provide preliminary advice. If you would like to speak to an attorney about the divorce process or any of these alternative dispute resolution processes, I would be happy to chat. Please reach out to Navigate Law Group and request to speak with our attorney, Amber Rushbanks.

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Disclaimer

Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.