Inevitably, at every consultation I have, a prospective client asks me two questions, near and dear to them, which seem like easy questions – or so they thought. The questions are (1) how long with this take and (2) how much will it cost.
I am certain that the answer, "it depends" is seldom satisfying. In fact, several years ago, the Court instituted what is called Best Practices in family cases, partially in response to these two issues.
As to the first question, the easy answer is that pursuant to Best Practices, the Court wants each case resolved within 365 days. That, however, is not the end of the story. Many factors go in to how long a case with take. In some cases, people actually settle before a Complaint for Divorce is even filed and the parties can be divorced in a few weeks. However, if a trial is actually required, 365 days is unlikely, especially in counties that lack judicial resources.
In other cases, a party can make their best offer, they can even offer the other side’s best case scenario on day one, and the case wont settle for weeks or months. Why is that.? Because all cases have a life of their own. While it is easy for the lawyer to tell our clients to treat the financial issues as a business decision, the reality is that client’s often find that to be easier said than done. Rather, because this is a dissolution of a marriage for some, the breaking apart of a family for others, the death of hopes and dreams for yet others, or worse, it is difficult to remove the emotion from the process. Why doesn’t someone take a great deal on day one – they are often just not ready emotionally to move on. While the system creates deadlines and there are legitimate means that one can use to try to move the matter forward, sometimes, you just have to wait a little for the emotions to subside.
In other cases, you may not settle quickly because you just don’t have enough information. In those cases, you may not know whether it is a great deal or not. Some cases will settle quicker than others if both parties act reasonably, try to put aside (if not forget) the emotions, treat each other with respect, and more importantly, want to settle (i.e. be willing to make compromises).Of course, the statistics show that 99% of the cases settle. Moreover, it is a rare day when a client doesn’t say to me that they want to settle amicably. More often than not, at least at first, amicably is measured on their terms only, without regard at that time for the concept of what might be fair and equitable to the other party An often heard axiom is that you know a settlement is a fair one if both people walk away a little unhappy.
Other factors that can delay a case is a party’s refusal to cooperate with discovery or Court Orders. Sometime, opposing counsel is a factor in delaying the case, either because he or she is not responsive, or perhaps for some other improper motive.
For the same reason that cases can take longer than others, they can also cost more than others. I have been involved in cases with parties having substantial income(s) and assets which have settled quickly and inexpensively. How does that happen – the parties acted in good faith and were motivated to settle. I have been involved in other cases where the parties incomes were modest, yet despite all possible efforts to convey reasonableness, they insisted on behaving badly and/or litigating such that the legal fees were quite large.
The bottom line is that the length of the case and cost of the case are often dependent upon the conduct, emotions and reasonableness of the parties.