In divorce cases where the parties do not reach an agreement, their issues will be decided by a judge. In presenting an issue to the judge, lawyers will often use phrases like “we need the Court’s assistance” or “we need the Court’s guidance.” The issue is a decision that must be made but the two spouses disagree about what to do. When they put a question to the judge to answer, they are saying: “We can’t do this by ourselves. Please do it for us.”
The judge then listens to both sides and makes the decision. This decision-making is a service. Just resolving the dispute, even if one party is very dissatisfied, has value. Win, lose or draw, the matter is settled and the parties can move on with their lives.
It is important to remember that the judges are people like the rest of us. Their job is hard because often it is impossible to make everyone happy. Hostility between the parties can be very frustrating for the judges trying to sort out the situation.
The issues in a divorce are limited to three things: (1) property, (2) cash support, and (3) relationships. The marital property has to be divided. Will one party be required to pay money to the other to support them (spousal support, aka alimony) or to support the children (child support)?
With regard to the relationships typical questions that the judge may decide are: Do the spouses need a court order to keep them from bothering or even harming each other? How much time will the children spend with each parent? Does a parent have a problem like alcoholism that might harm the children and can a court order keep them safe while still allowing them to have a relationship with that parent? Is one parent undermining the other parent’s relationship with the children?
These are the court decisions that will affect you. If you don’t compromise with your spouse and insist that the judge decide an issue, their decision could sometimes be worse than what you could have gotten by negotiating.
Sometimes compromise is impossible. For example, one spouse may have a mental illness that prevents them from even making a decision at all. Bipolar disorder can make it hard for people to stick to a decision long enough for the lawyers to put it in writing and get their signature before they change their mind and reject a deal they agreed to just the day before.
In other cases, one spouse make insist on things that are so extreme that it would be better to take the chance with a judge. If the demand for spousal support is so high that it is outside the range of what a judge is likely to do, it’s better to take the small risk the judge might be even more extreme than to be stuck with too heavy a burden.