While listening to the recent doom and gloom about the government shutdown, I was incredibly annoyed by the perception that everyone in elected office in Washington should have been forced to compromise by their own common sense. It also occurred to me that Washington is not unlike divorce court. Opposing sides, rigid positions, angry murmurs — it could be any morning in the hallways of any divorce court. Where the Constitution balances powers to eventually force compromise, the Probate and Family Court sets up mechanisms to encourage resolutions. And any resolution will require compromise.
The first Probate Court compromise enforcer (huh) is the Family Service office. Generally you would be involved with the Family Service office the first time your case comes into court with motions regarding temporary parenting or temporary support. The FSOs are, by and large, well trained, hardworking and very aware of how the judges in their particular court handle routine issues.
The next point of forced compromise is the pretrial conference. At this point in the process all of the discovery should be done, and if there is a Guardian ad Litem her report should be in. In other words, the parties and the lawyers should have all the information they need to have to settle the case. Also at this point, the Court mandates what is known as a four-way conference, where both sides have to meet and try to resolve the case. If the whole case can’t be resolved then at least the areas of disagreement should have been narrowed, and then the parties and counsel go to court for the actual pretrial hearing and to get help from the judge as to how he sees the remaining issues.
If the case still hasn’t settled, the court may order the parties to conciliation. This is generally done on a countywide basis through the bar associations and the good auspices of pro bono lawyers donating their time.
There is also now a new program for when cases are very close to settling and there may only be one or two unresolved issues remaining. In these cases the parties and counsel bring the divorce agreement and meet at the courthouse with a retired judge who can hopefully get everyone to compromise and become divorced.
The necessity of compromise is not a loss. It is common sense.