When assessing the advantages and disadvantages of settlement versus trial, it is worth considering what happens after the trial is over. When the trial ends, the case is rarely over.
In Maryland, for 30 days after the ruling, either party has the right to an automatic appeal of a Judge’s decision. An appeal adds to the cost, delays an outcome, and may only cause further uncertainty if granted and a further hearing must be held. All while life marches on, the children grow up and the financial landscape changes. For Magistrate’s, there is an automatic right to take exceptions (which is essentially an appeal) within 10 days of the Magistrate’s recommendations. This stops entry of the court order, requires a further hearing before a Judge, and leaves the parties in limbo until the Judge’s ruling.
Settlements are not appealable, and generally can only be changed regarding child custody, child support, and sometimes alimony. When considering settlement versus trial, consider the uncertainty of a potential appeal or exceptions following trial.
And, there is the timing of the ruling itself. Sometimes the Judge or Magistrate will give his or her decision on the day the trial ends. After a multi-day trial, it is far more likely that the decision will be given sometime later. Ideally, this happens soon after. But, it is not outside the realm of possibility of a delay of months…sometimes many months…or even longer. The lack of control over timing of a decision may make settlement more attractive.
As much as Judges and Magistrates try to customize their decisions for each couple and family, it is unrealistic to expect the court to provide the same level of detail that the same couple can accomplish in settlement. A court decision may leave many unanswered questions. Some of which may cause problems for years to come if the couple has minor children together. In settlement, couples can be as specific as they choose and customize the solution to their own family’s needs. So, it is worth weighing the certainty of a chosen settlement over the uncertainty of an imposed court decision. Especially considering how trial often negatively impacts the potential for future co-parenting and compromise.
There is no one way to resolve a couple’s differences. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each option is an important step to making informed decisions about your future and your family while on this journey.