Why Do Settlements Fail or Succeed?

Every week I meet clients who are divorced who continue to have problems with their ex-spouse. The client tells me that their ex is violating the agreement. The complaints include failure to pay child or spousal support, interference with parenting time, failure to consult on major decisions affecting the child, refusal to transfer money, late payments, attempted relocation, parental alienation and so the list could continue and fill another paragraph or page.

Why do some clients who are divorced never return to an attorney's office and manage to honor their agreements while others remain locked in battle like two scorpions in a glass bottle? One thing that is clear to me is that it is not always about the money. I have had clients with substantial assets and those that barely manage to pay their bills and either one of these sets of clients may return for a second round of litigation or may instead find the formula to a civil and productive relationship with their ex-spouse.

I recently settled a case in which both parties are attorneys and were law partners. The divorce required not only the dissolution of their marriage but also the ending of their law partnership. Both attorneys were bright and intelligent and the divorce agreement was lengthy and detailed. Clearly the agreement was understood and negotiated by both with the help of their divorce attorneys. Yet, this case still rages on with allegations of default, failure to make payments, interference with parenting time and many other violations.

I can also state that I have settled cases with several million dollars of assets and not one bad word was exchanged, the clients were never in the courthouse and while it has been many years I know that they have successfully navigated the road map of raising well adjusted children.

I think the simple answer is the idea of "good faith". If both parties are determined to make their agreement work they are usually successful. I have had clients tell me that after they sign the agreement they are putting it in the drawer and hope to never have to take it out. Other clients will be accusing the other of violations within days of having signed the agreement. I remember one client telling me, "my ex-wife's hatred of me exceeds her love of our children".

Agreements set forth rights and obligations, but no agreement can imagine every possible event that could occur for the next 10 to 15 years. People change jobs, they increase or decrease their income, their children get older, they remarry, they have more children and they move. Therefore, clients who want to avoid more litigation need to be flexible and accommodating within reason. Parents who let go of their anger and decide to move forward and not look backward are well on the way to peaceful co-existence.