Settlement Offers:

What you need to know about the settlement offer process

You hear the word all the time, “I settled’ or “settlement offer”. These words are thrown around like frisbees in the legal world, frequently circulated in between legal representative. While these words may be prevalent in the legal vocabulary, for individuals these words impact the most, there is uncertainty behind the meaning. The idea behind a settlement offer is that it is something one party offers to the opposing party when they feel like they don’t have a good chance in court to get what they want. They are minimizing, or mitigating, their losses. Perhaps this holds true for some, but in reality, a settlement offer is far more intricate.

A settlement offer is the deal made to resolve the issue between two parties. One party makes an offer to the opposing party, usually a monetary sum, in exchange for their right to pursue any legal action regarding the issue at hand. One party gets the money, and the other gets released from future suits regarding that same issue. Settlements are definitive. They are the end of your legal battle with the opposing party. They are not like trial cases where decisions can be appealed, once you settle, it’s over. Your settlement offer, if accepted, is a binding agreement.
The problem with a settlement offer is that, essentially, it is a transaction. It is cold, calculated, precise and can feel emotionless. It is the direct opposite of what the family court experience is for so many people, being emotionally charged and a chance to make a statement to the person that wronged you. It does not feel like a victory, instead it feels like a compromise, like you gave up by either making the offer or by taking it. Many people are reluctant to entertain settlement offers, and while it is hard to determine why that is the case, it is likely because people feel like they are surrendering, regardless of whether they are offering or receiving the settlement.
The truth is, with settlement offers and settling, there is no winning or losing, at least in regard to the family law setting. Remember, family law trials are expensive, can be drawn out and can be emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting. They don’t only put a strain on the people participating in them, but also those around them, family and friends. If you’re in family court, most likely it’s because some issue has come up that needs to be resolved, you’re coming into court fresh of what is for most people a very difficult situation. While for some, settling is not the right choice, it is important to note that it is not always the wrong choice. Settling does not mean you are wrong, or that you don’t have the facts on your side, it does not mean losing in court was assured. It simply means that what was offered to you was more enticing than the trial process and its potential award.
While settlement offers can signify that one party wants to end the legal battle, in reality they often mark the beginning of the resolution of several legal issues. When a party makes an offer to settle it reveals what they believe the problems to be and the compensation they believe is fair for those issues. By making, or looking at, an offer to settle you are either outlining your own position or getting a chance to understand the position and mentality of the opposing party. Settlement offers quite often bring attention to issues that were not at the forefront previously. They tell you the items that are in dispute. These offers are a chance to get a lay of the land and allow you to see where your case is going, what issues are being dealt with, what issues are not being dealt with and what the opposing party thinks of their position. Settlement offers are a chance to reassess your case and find your footing.
Legal cases are dynamic, always in motion and always evolving, you need to make sure you are always aware of your position. There is one conversation every lawyer must have with their client and it should start with “what do you want out of this?” Not only is this conversation a necessity, it is a discussion that needs to occur consistently during your case. Some want to stick up for themselves, others want compensation and there are even people that simply want justice. Knowing you want to “win” is not enough, you need to know what you want. While we like to think of the legal process as being impartial and very formal, with a clear-cut winner and loser, for the people that it affects, the clients, it is often incredibly personal and ends up being not so definite. It is sometimes hard to tell if an individual won their case, but you can always tell if they got what they wanted. If you know where you stand and what you want, by default, everyone else will as well. From that point, and only from that point, will you be able to tell if settling is the right, or wrong, decision for you, and the process of a settlement offer is one way of finding that out.

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