What is a Four Way Meeting in a Divorce?
One term that you may hear during your divorce is “Four-Way Meeting.” A four-way meeting, or “four-way” for short, isn’t actually a formal legal or court term. Rather, what we call it when the two spouses and their attorneys sit down informally and attempt to negotiate and reach resolutions to some or all of the outstanding issues in their divorce. A four-way is one tool divorce lawyers use to reach out-of-court settlements.
Read on to learn more about four-way meetings and divorce — including the pros and cons.
Four Way Meetings and Divorce Litigation
There are three major approaches to divorce in Connecticut — mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigation. Mediation and collaborative divorce are forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, or “ADR,” and take place almost entirely outside of the court system. If you and your spouse do not both agree to opt-in to mediation or collaborative divorce, you will have a litigated divorce.
That isn’t the end of the story, though. Litigations range from exceedingly low conflict — where spouses are able to reach agreements on all issues in their divorce without court intervention — to extremely high conflict — where spouses cannot reach agreements on anything and a judge winds up ruling on your divorce following a trial. Four-way meetings are one tool lawyers use to help clients resolve litigated divorces outside of court and keep divorces low conflict.
When Do Four Way Meetings Take Place?
Lawyers may suggest a four-way meeting at different points in a divorce litigation, depending on the specifics of your case.
For example, sometimes it is effective to have a four-way meeting at the beginning of a divorce. In other cases, four-way meetings work well once the litigation process has progressed to a point where “temperature has cooled.” For example, at the beginning of some divorces, there are urgent issues that require negotiation between lawyers or assistance from the court. After those issues are resolved, the spouses may become more open and able to reach out-of-court resolutions.
What Can I Expect at a Four Way Meeting?
Four-way meetings typically take place in a conference room at one of the two lawyer’s offices. It’s possible that at some points you and your lawyer may step out of the room for a moment to have a private discussion.
What Are Some Pros and Cons of Four Way Meetings?
There are pros and cons to using the four-way meeting as a settlement tool in your divorce. Your divorce lawyer will give you her insights about your particular case, but generally speaking, here are some of the pros and cons:
- Opportunity To Be Heard
Divorces are emotional. For example, although fault may not be likely to play a significant role in a judge’s view of property division, the two spouses’ view of fault can impact their ability to reach resolutions. A four-way meeting can provide an opportunity for the spouses to share their side of the story, and clear a path to settlement. That said, for some, rather than fostering resolutions, this can leave one or more spouses more frustrated and entrenched. That said, four-way meetings still provide an opportunity to reveal the biggest areas of dispute, which can help narrow issues.
A conference room is more comfortable than a courtroom — even if it’s not at your own lawyer’s office. The relative informality of a four-way can create a problem-solving atmosphere.
- Opportunity For Your Lawyer To Gain Insights
Your lawyer may have the opportunity to gain a new perspective on your case at a four-way. The two of you communicate extensively, and she may have discussed the case extensively with your spouse’s lawyer — but the four-way meeting can be an opportunity for her to gain direct perspective on your spouse.
- No Guarantee of Success
Of course, a four-way meeting may not be productive, you may not make progress on resolving a single issue. That said, even if a four-way meeting only demonstrates how difficult a situation is or how far apart the spouses are, that, in and of itself, can actually be a significant benefit.
What Other Tools Do Divorce Lawyers’ Use to Resolve Litigation Outside of Court?
In addition to four-way meetings, lawyers use several other tools to resolve divorce litigations outside of court.
- Negotiation Between Attorneys
It’s very common for the spouses’ respective lawyers to negotiate resolutions to issues in a divorce.
Although we tend to think of mediation and one of the three major approaches to a divorce, it can also be used as a tool to resolve outstanding items in a divorce. For example, the spouses’ lawyers may recommend bringing in a neutral mediation to try to resolve the divorce prior to trial. Generally, a retired judge or an experienced divorce attorney will serve as the mediator. The mediator’s role isn’t to issue rulings. However, the mediator may give recommendations based upon his or her experience in order to help the spouses understand what a trial judge might do as they attempt to reach a resolution on their own.
- Parenting Coordinators
In some cooperative litigations, the spouses’ lawyers will suggest that they work with a neutral parenting coordinator to help them develop a parenting plan. This is inspired by the divorce coach/child specialist role in collaborative divorce. The parenting coordinator is typically a mental health professional, with a background in child development.
In an arbitration, unlike in a mediation, you are asking the neutral arbitration to make a decision that you both agree to live by. Sometimes arbitration in divorces is used to resolve discreet issues, like personal property division.
A pretrial conference is a settlement meeting required by the court. Otherwise put, a pretrial is when the court brings the parties together to assist them in deciding how to resolve their disputes themselves. There are two types of pretrials in Connecticut divorces — special masters pretrials and judicial pretrials. In both, professionals experienced with Connecticut divorce law are there to help the parties reach an agreement. At a judicial pretrial, that person is a judge. In a special masters pretrial, one or two experienced divorce lawyers volunteer their time to assist spouses in resolving their disputes.