This is the fourth in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Here is my answer to question #4:

• What is your approach to settling a case?

The most important factor is reaching a good settlement in a case is knowledge — having all of the information needed to negotiate with. In a case with complex assets to divide, this may mean having a valuation expert complete an analysis on the value of the community property business. Or, knowing the method of dividing certain complex employment benefits.

Also analyzing each party’s position and the likelihood of success of those positions at trial is an important part of the settlement process. This means understanding the best alternative to settlement and the worst alternative to settlement. Having an experience attorney is essential for this stage. The euphemism of “a good lawyer knows the law but a great lawyer knows the judge” rings true here. Knowing how the judge is likely to rule on a particular issue is essential for a fair evaluation of the alternatives to settlement.

This is also an important part of managing expectations. A case is unlikely to settle outside the range of each party’s best/worst case scenarios. For example, the law says that a parent who does not have primary custody of his/her child must pay child support; so, a non-primary parent who will “only” settle the case if he or she is not ordered to pay child support has unrealistic expectations and will likely not reach an agreement. The primary parent would never settle for something that is a guaranteed outcome at court.

The last factor in a good settlement is planning – knowing the most likely ending point of the negotiation process and planning each strategic move in the negotiation to get to that desired point. This also involves understanding the negotiation process.

See my answer to question #1 How long have you practiced family law? And question #2 What is your approach to a new case? And question #3 What percentage of cases do you settle?
 

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.