At some point in almost every divorce case, you and your spouse will attend a settlement or mediation conference. The purpose of attending such a conference is to settle the case and avoid the expense and stress of a trial. While most mediation conferences do result in settlement, it is not always possible to obtain a complete settlement. So what happens then? Is there any middle ground? The answer is yes. It is possible to attend a mediation conference and obtain a partial settlement agreement in your case. The partial settlement agreement can include as much or as little about your case as you and your spouse are able to agree on. For example, you can settle everything except for how much child support one person owes the other, or you can settlement how you are going to divide your assets, but not how much alimony one person will owe the other. You could also settle something as small as who is getting which vehicle, but not settle anything else about your case. One of the advantages of mediation is that you hold the power – nothing can settle unless you agree, which is why it can be as productive as you want it to be.
Once you have a partial settlement agreement written and signed by both you and your spouse, it gets filed with the court. The remainder of your case is then set for a final hearing. At this final hearing, which is commonly called a trial, everything that was not resolved by the partial settlement agreement is up to the judge to decide. The judge must include the terms of your partial settlement agreement in the final court order, as partial settlement agreements, for the most part, are always binding on the court when the judge makes his or her decision about the remainder of the issues in your case. There are always exceptional circumstances when a settlement agreement is not binding, however these are very rare and specific. The fewer number of issues that are left for the court to decide, the shorter your trial will be. Therefore, it is always advisable to settle as much of your case as possible at a mediation or settlement conference.