This is another frequent question, asked by about half of my clients, sometimes at the beginning of a case and sometimes after it has gone on for a while. Actually, most clients eventually get to this question if their divorce lingers long enough. There are a few things that can be done, but they ultimately depend on the goodwill or motivation of your spouse. You can always just wait for a trial, but it usually takes a long time to get into court (often a year or more in Tarrant County). The situation is similar in other (non-divorce) family law matters.
Here’s my list of 9 suggestions. You may be uncomfortable and may not enjoy some of them, but they are provided to help you speed up the process, not to make things more pleasant for you; if speed is not your highest priority, you may not want to do some of these. Please remember, they may not apply in every case — they are possibilities to consider.
1. Don’t disagree. That may seem obvious, but the more you and your spouse disagree about things, the less likely an early settlement is. You have to make a value judgment about how important some principles and some issues are. The ultimate position is to "roll over" and let your spouse have everything he or she wants. That rarely seems like a good decision, but it probably comes down to evaluating the matter under discussion. Also, giving in completely sometimes doesn’t satisfy the other spouse. Sometimes it is helpful to argue a little about something and then later concede it so your spouse thinks he or she really won something.
2. Be cooperative and nice. Being a bully rarely pays off in a quick settlement. Making demands and setting deadlines may provoke more resistance than agreement. On the other hand, being cooperative and respectful may pay dividends. Looking for common ground and showing effort in working toward that may get a friendlier, more cooperative response.
3. Apologize. This one may be tough for a lot of people, but if your highest priority is to get the divorce over with, it can be helpful if an apology is done appropriately and sincerely. There are always things each spouse can legitimately apologize for. If you have a hard time coming up with something, talk to family and friends, particularly of the opposite sex, and ask their help in coming up with something. A good apology may open up communication and help your spouse feel better about the situation, which can lead to productive negotiations.
4. Figure out your spouse’s underlying issues and resolve them. If you can’t figure out the underlying issues, get some help. Talk to family and friends, maybe a counselor and maybe your attorney. Once you identify the issues, do some brainstorming with your attorney and try to come up with some acceptable alternatives to present. If you can solve the biggest issues, you have a chance to work out a final settlement a little sooner.
5. Use mediation. This is about the best way to resolve cases (other than Collaborative Law). With a good mediator, you have a high probability of settlement, although there’s no guarantee. If the other party demands 85% of the assets to settle, there’s little hope for mediation to bring sense to them. Most of the time though, mediation will result in a settlement.
6. Get a mutually respected person to intercede for you. In many cases, there is someone who your spouse respects and/or will listen to who can be an informal mediator for both of you. This could be a friend, relative, minister or someone else who is respected and perceived as neutral by your spouse. You should still be prepared to make some concessions to get the deal done.
7. Don’t send mixed signals. Make sure that your spouse understands that you fully intend to finish the divorce. Even as you try to compromise and be nice, be sure that your efforts are not misinterpreted as an effort at reconciliation and make sure that you that you are sincere.
8. Provide all appropriate and needed information. If you drag your feet in providing information that has been requested, or argue over its relevance or value, you are wasting time. If you truly want the divorce over with, take on the burden and do more than your share of the work. If time is not important to you and if your value is on equally sharing the work load in the divorce, then don’t cooperate. Providing the needed information in an organized fashion, sometimes even before it is requested, will speed up the settlement process and help establish good will, especially if the information really benefits your spouse.
9. Bring in a neutral expert to help with difficult issues. Sometimes past efforts and common sense are not enough to generate appropriate solutions. It can be a real life saver to bring in a neutral expert to help create solutions about kids or about finances. Someone working for both of you is in a position to help both sides understand the possibilities and to reach an agreement. There is some expense, but it is cheaper than spending money on two attorneys in trial, and it is much quicker. This is something we do in Collaborative cases all the time and it works very well.
Hopefully, these nine suggestions can help you move your divorce (or other family law case) to a satisfactory conclusion within a reasonable time period. You might try just one or two of the techniques, or you might need several. Please discuss your strategies with your attorney before you start with them. Good luck!