Collegiate sports conferences attract a lot of fans, many advertisers, and real zeal around college stadiums, gymnasiums and courts. Sports conferences can be huge, as with the 15 powerhouses in the NCAA Atlantic Coast Conference, including our own mighty University of Virginia. Then again, some conferences are very, very small. Witness the Intercollegiate Fencing Conference of Southern California, which comprises a paper-thin seven colleges. Imagine, though, a conference of only four. Just what is a four-way settlement conference during separation and divorce?
Does it Take Four To Play?
You and your wife are divorcing. You know enough not to do it yourself, so you hire a capable, local attorney. So does your wife. That makes four people to sit at a conference table and decide exactly how the divorce will be handled. That meeting, in which a property settlement agreement is drawn up, is a four-way settlement conference.
The conference could have many moods, depending on the relationship you and your wife maintain during the divorce process. Some of the mood is set (and often softened) by the two attorneys, but the way you feel about the settlement, the way you react to offers, proposals and arguments sets the tone for the entire conference.
Suppose you and your wife are very clinical and very detached from the marriage. You may have both agreed, coolly and calmly, to an equitable division of responsibilities and assets. Then the conference could proceed almost like a simple business transaction, each attorney laying out goals, everyone respecting the process, with a property settlement agreement coming together quickly.
Then again, you could be seething. You could be dreading being in the same vicinity as your soon-to-be ex. For all you know, she feels the same way. Do not expect your attorneys to somehow absorb the emotional baggage you both bring. Both attorneys will be professional, yes, but they are legal counselors, not marriage counselors. Expect to be in separate rooms within the same office, or in some circumstances, at the same conference table.
Plan Your Strategy
No matter what the opposing side brings to the table, you and your attorney have to present something. You cannot simply react. So do your homework, have a strategy going into the four-way conference, and be prepared.
- Determine your “wish list” — Work with your attorney to arrange your priorities, which may not jive with your wife’s priorities.
- Avoid distractions — Stick to the agenda you and your attorney developed, and keep a printed version in front of you so you can track the items as you talk.
- Come prepared — Better to overpack, bringing with you any evidence of problems, all financial documents, and deep background, just in case you need it. Keep it organized, so you can access information quickly.
- Avoid emotion — The two principal players (you and your soon-to-be ex-wife) set the tone, definitely, but you need not play into her emotions. Keep snide remarks, sarcasm, loud voices and wounded egos out in the waiting room.
“Good faith” bargaining is more than a catchphrase. Do not enter a four-way conference with some ulterior motive. Make sincere offers, listen with patience, and allow your attorney to evaluate proposals. One common (and bad) mistake is to speak prematurely, to be dismissive of something the other side offers without first checking with your attorney.
Bluntly, most Virginia men are not legal scholars. Your wife’s attorney may offer something that is not on your wish-list, so you instinctively dismiss it. That’s fine, so long as you don’t immediately blurt out, “Take a long walk off the Little Island Park pier.”
Silence works wonders in four-way settlement conferences. Your silence in response to the other side can make your wife and her attorney uneasy. It also allows space for your attorney to do the thinking and talking for you.
Kids Come First, Period
If you and your wife have children, make them the first issue. If the conference breaks down, if all you could salvage from one meeting was child custody and child support, at least your children are protected.
Children are also usually a reminder that the two of you were able to accomplish some good, so the mood for the rest of the conference can be positive.
Getting to Signatures
No matter what else occurs in the four-way conference, both sides have the same goals: reaching a settlement you both will sign. This means a willingness to compromise. You get to compromise in specific ways:
- Listen to her side — Her wishes and wants are every bit as important as your own.
- Look for opportunity — If she says she must have the Virginia Beach vacation home for three months every summer, and you know your busy work season is August, offer July and August in return for getting it June.
- Be willing to take a break — Attorneys collect fees by the hour. That makes a fast negotiation tempting, but be wary. If you find yourself losing concentration, losing emotional control, or losing patience, as for a time-out. An hour’s break can give you a new perspective.
- Pay for what matters — Children’s college costs are not requirements of a property settlement; offer instead to pay for tutoring, extra lessons, a new computer for your children so scholarships come their way.
- Consider a collaborative four-way conference. Seek common goals and priorities first, then proceed to the touchy subjects.
Go in Prepared: Call The Firm For Men
When you telephone The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or when you contact us online, you will have at your disposal experienced, trusted Virginia family law attorneys. We have sat around many a conference table, across from unpleasant soon-to-be exes and their equally unpleasant lawyers. We have sat beside many Virginia men, providing wise counsel and calm advice. We can be there for you, too, at your divorce hearing, during your custody battle, and in your four-way settlement conference.