Four Way Conferences: Do’s and Don’ts when Meeting with Your Ex and their Attorney
At some point, in a contested divorce or other family matter (such as custody), the majority of litigants in New York can expect to attend what is called a “Four-Way” conference. This is a settlement conference where both parties and their lawyers or attorneys sit down and attempt to settle all or at least parts of the case.
Although potentially a very stressful situation, there are some serious benefits that can be derived from attending a four-way with your lawyer or attorney. These conferences can more quickly resolve the case, avoiding further litigation and court appearances, which, in New York, can get very time consuming and expensive. These meetings can allow for your attorney to better gauge your ex and their representation (is the other attorney more reasonable or are they taking a hard line? Is settlement going to be possible? What are the hot button issues in your case from the other side’s perspective)? Even (and sometimes particularly if) your case does go to trial, this insight can be extremely helpful.
However, in order to maximize the benefits and avoid the potential pitfalls of a four-way conference, set out below are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Be prepared.
Prior to sitting down with your ex and their lawyer or attorney, it is absolutely necessary that you speak with your own counsel before the meeting takes place. Make sure that your lawyer or attorney walks you through what will be happening (what issues will be discussed, what they anticipate will be brought up by the other side), and make sure to disclose not only your positions, but where you are flexible and believe the other side may have their areas of non-negotiation and flexibility as well. Also, if there is something your attorney should know, even if you aren’t sure the other side has the same information (such as a second job or undisclosed bank account) make sure your attorney is aware because the worst thing is to be surprised with an accusation by your ex or their attorney during the meeting. Lastly, establish with your lawyer or attorney what you would like to accomplish and how active you would like to be in the discussion (and how aggressive you may want them to be on certain issues).
- Keep to your Agenda.
Although you may not have had the opportunity to speak to or be around your ex for some period of time, the four-way conference is NOT the forum in which to let off steam. While getting some of your anger out might feel good at the time, it is also far more likely to make your ex and their attorney not want to negotiate with you, and be less flexible with respect to resolving issues in dispute. Even if your ex is in fact a jerk, calling them that during the conference might be the difference between the two of your resolving custody that day and having to spend thousands of dollars to have the New York court system do it instead. From the same perspective, if your ex starts hurling insults and accusations, stay calm. Do not let yourself be goaded into damaging your own positions. If you need to, state that you need a moment to collect yourself and step out of the room to cool down before continuing.
- Pay Attention to the Other Side.
While it might be tempting to try and get what you can, pay close attention to what your ex and their lawyer or attorney is saying. If you listen carefully, you may find small areas of agreement which can help narrow down the big issues you are arguing over. For example, maybe your ex is willing to pay for your child’s college expenses, but only up to the cost of attending a state school (known as the SUNY cap). However, if you don’t listen to what their exact position on paying for college is, or ask, you may just assume they don’t want to pay at all, and an issue that could have potentially been sorted out falls by the wayside.
- Be Willing to Compromise.
While it is extremely important that you do not allow yourself to be pressured into signing something you don’t want, be willing to compromise and find creative solutions. Maybe you can keep the car that you love in exchange for your ex keeping the antique furniture you purchased together for your some, instead of trying to make each other sell everything and dividing the proceeds. Maybe you can alternate certain holidays with the children so you each get the full weekend on your designated year. This conference is a great opportunity to be specific about things that work and don’t work in a face to face conversation in a private, more comfortable setting, which is often better for resolving issues than court appearances in front of a judge.
Overall, a four-way conference is a great opportunity to find out what it is that the other side is truly seeking in the context of your case. New York courts favor settlement over trial, so anything that you, your, ex, and your lawyers or attorneys can work out will probably not only be more tailored to your specific needs, but will resolve the issues of your case more quickly and with less costs, both financially and emotionally.