The lawyer who settles a domestic violence injunction case at or during the hearing on the petition must be prepared, professional, and very skilled. Often, a domestic violence injunction (DVI) case will settle in the hallway just before the hearing is about to begin. The parties reach terms of settlement and then go before the judge and announce those terms. In response to questions from the judge, or because one lawyer’s notes are different than the other’s, dickering over the words of the settlement continue before the judge. This usually gets the judge perturbed. And, it increases the opportunity for error.
Here are a few tips:
Be careful. Very carefully check the written order before leaving the courtroom. Be sure it contains all the terms of the settlement and that it is properly signed and dated. Are all the people under protection named and identified specifically in the order? Determine whether the agreement is for entry of the injunction or to defer the hearing on the injunction for a stated period of time. This can be a very strong point of negotiation.
Be precise. Have an outline of the remedies you want, or want to avoid, before coming to the hearing. This will ensure that you cover all necessary topics while negotiations are ongoing. Bring schedules or attachments with you, such as a timesharing schedule, provisions for payment of child support through the Depository or otherwise, a list of property to be retrieved, and the like, which can be attached to the order. Have some names ready for Guardian ad Litem appointment or other services.
Be thorough. Take careful notes of the settlement terms while negotiating. Review the notes and language with opposing counsel before going before the judge. Have you included findings supporting the entry of the order? Are provisions regarding the children clear and complete, including specifying parental responsibility, the schedule and mechanics of contact including supervised contact, child support, consideration of a GAL or custody evaluation, and counseling or other services the children may need? How will the parties communicate? What about the pets? Have you covered financial issues such as spousal support, payment of bills and expenses, use of credit cards, withdrawals or freezing accounts? Have you covered property issues, such as exclusive use and possession, and retrieval of property from the residence? Have you been clear in establishing conditions pertaining to issues of substance abuse or mental illness? Have you addressed guns and other weapons?
Be professional. Advise your client of his or her rights and responsibilities, and the consequences of the agreed order. Don’t leave out what may happen to his or her job, rights to carry a concealed weapon, parental rights, and the likely involvement of DCF. In the hallway settlement, this may get overlooked. Be sure to take the time before the order is entered to advise and counsel your client. Include advising your client that the quickness of the settlement can have pros and cons, and errors or omissions. These proceedings are highly emotional so keep your own emotions in check.
Hallway settlements are going to come up in domestic violence cases and they can be worrisome. Some attorneys will not go forward with them for liability reasons. But, the realities of the family’s needs sometimes require that the opportunity for settlement not be missed. Settlement done the right way can lay a foundation for the parties to get professional services started which may minimize the agonizing separation of parent and child, give respite from violence, stop the chaos, and have them see the court and their attorney as a positive force.
Joy A. Bartmon is a Florida family law attorney, trained Collaborative Family Law attorney, certified family law mediator, and certified Family Guardian ad Litem. http://www.bartmonfamilylaw.com/about-joy-bartmon/
Domestic Violence is a serious subject and should never be taken lightly. http://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence