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Understanding settlement conferences

In the past, if you and your spouse decided to get divorced in Montana, you had few options available to you besides going to court. However, due in part to the high costs involved in litigation, both in terms of time and money, as well as the desirability of maintaining cordial relations between spouses, alternative dispute resolution options are increasingly available to help you reach a divorce agreement. We at Cunningham Law Office understand that you may feel confused or overwhelmed by the choices available to you. In this article, we explain a term with which you may not be familiar: settlement conference.

According to the American Bar Association, a settlement conference involves a neutral third party who assists you and your spouse to explore settlement options in lieu of going to court for a hearing. A settlement conference is similar to mediation in some ways. Both are forms of alternative dispute resolution meant to reach an agreement outside of court and moderated by a third party with no personal interest in the case. However, a settlement conference is different from mediation in some significant ways. 

The main way in which a settlement conference differs from mediation is that the latter involves all parties meeting together in the same room and negotiating face to face. At the very least, the parties to mediation include you, your spouse and the mediator. Either you or your spouse, or both, can also choose to have your attorneys present at the mediation if you choose. A settlement conference is different in that negotiations do not take place face to face. Rather, the third party overseeing the negotiation, referred to as a Settlement Master under these circumstances, acts as a go-between while you and your spouse remain in separate rooms, along with your respective attorneys.

Over the course of the settlement conference, the Settlement Master will speak first with one party and the attorney, then the other, moving back and forth between the two rooms with the objective of eventually reaching a final agreement by gradually narrowing down the issues. This method is useful for couples who do not want to litigate the divorce in court, for one reason or another, yet are unable to conduct a productive negotiation in person. More information about settlement conferences is available on our website. 

 

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Cunningham Law Office is a family law-focused firm in Missoula, Montana. We serve Missoula, Ravalli County, and the surrounding area.