Why Divorce Cases Don’t Settle

Imagine a divorce which has been ongoing for several years.  The experts essentially agree on the numbers for valuing the marital estate; the lawyers essentially agree on the options for resolution.  Hours and hours have been spent working to settle the case, yet the case still does not settle. How can this be, given the time and hard work involved?

Some family law cases do not settle because of a significant legal issue; or due to significant differences in experts’ opinions on asset values such that the cost to litigate the issue is a strategic business decision based on the financial stakes involved.  You might find it surprising that these situations are few and far between.  Rather, there are other reasons involved besides difficult legal or financial issues when family law cases, like the example above, do not settle.  Here are three examples of why cases do not settle that have nothing to do with the law, the lawyers or the experts:

  1. Desire for Revenge.  Sometimes one person in the divorce remains so angry, that they essentially refuse to settle a case as a means of exerting revenge on the other person.  This individual’s desire for revenge is so deep, that the cost and potential financial, emotional and psychological damage of pursuing the case is irrelevant.  Essentially, it’s an example of the old cliché about cutting off one’s nose to spite their face.
  2. Overly Aggressive Demands. It is not uncommon during negotiations for one party to push and push, asking for more and more.  The cost of litigation is so high that very often the person who is asked to keep giving does so until they are pushed too far.  Once this happens, you usually see the negotiations come to a screeching halt.    The final demand becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
  3. Unrealistic Expectations.  The person who is not willing to accept the law and the advice of their lawyer and experts, and who instead insists that their moral and ethical values will prevail in court despite the evidence to the contrary, will often pursue an unrealistic determination to “win” which makes settlement impossible.

No one says it is easy to put aside the emotions which can sink a good, reasoned settlement. But frankly, no longer how strongly a person might feel that they are right and they should fight to the very end to prove it, rarely if ever is it financially or emotionally desirable to do so.