Monthly Archives: August 2014

Bring Back the Calderbank – Stop Mad Litigation

A few years ago when people divorced they were encouraged to make offers to settle that were “Without Prejudice Save As To Costs”. These were known as Calderbank offers, after the name of the divorce case in which they were first made. The idea was you made these without prejudice offers that the judge would see at your appointment to try and settle the case – and they would try to use them to help people settle. There’d also be open offers that the judge would see. These would usually be very positional, by which I mean they’d be at the extreme end of what was likely to be the outcome, so were pretty useless – and we still have them.

WITHOUT

People are afraid to tell the judge what they’d really pay to settle in case s/he plays split the difference and they end up with an unfair settlement. So there’d be this hidden second tier of offers called the Calderbanks. These were always without prejudice, which meant the judge at trial didn’t get to see them and they couldn’t prejudice his or her decision-making. These Calderbank offers were a very serious matter. People had to put their money where their mouth was. If you put in a good Calderbank offer, then the other side was at risk of having to pay your costs from one month after the Calderbank offer was made. You’d usually get your costs if your Calderbank offer was better than the trail judge’s award – so if you beat the judgment, you got your costs. This really focused minds. Your lawyers would tell you if they thought you might end up having to pay the other side’s costs. It made people think and make sensible offers. It made a lot of cases settle earlier than they do now.

 These days there are no costs consequences to taking up an unreasonable position, as each side pays their own costs. Now people can just mouth any old rubbish, be as unreasonable as they like, yet still each side must normally pay their own costs. The total costs are paid from the assets before they’re split, so effectively you pay half of the total costs each – or half of each other’s costs. This can be a bit unfair if one party has very expensive lawyers or is unrepresented, but it’s just how it works. There is no incentive to be reasonable.

 In non family civil cases, people still have the equivalent of the Calderbank offer system. It does help prevent unreasonable negotiating positions. I think we should bring it back and didn’t agree with its removal in the first place, as it allows people to hold out for unfair negotiating positions with impunity. It forces the reasonable person to go to trial or settle for less than they should get, with no costs consequences. Mad!

Bloody mindedness

When people are hurt, they often like to hurt back.

An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth and all that. If s/he left me to go off with that bastard/bitch, they must suffer for it. They will suffer, I’ll make sure of it, even if I lose out too, it will be worth it!  Does anyone ever say that in mediation? Rarely if ever, but they may think it and take up inexplicable negotiating positions or prolong arguments over nothing. They can be very bloody minded over sorting the simplest things out. There are reasons for this, such as they cannot let go of the relationship, cannot leave the connection with their ex, they are desperate to ‘win’ so have to keep fighting, they want to have the ‘last word’ and/or their fury fuels the conflict and then the conflict finds an outlet in:

  • Quarrelsome solicitors’ letters setting out endless arguments about anything and everything, much of may be it immaterial to settling the important issues like who gets the house or is it sold, what happens about pensions and the maintenance? If people fight over silly things you know you are in trouble, so the food mixer or kettle is an indication they are dredging the bottom of the barrel and this is caused by their feelings, not the importance of the bottom of the barrel.
  • Putting forward extremely unfair positions that would make the other person lose out massively (punishment, ‘make them suffer’)
  • And worst of all, arguing through the children, using them as weapons and instruments of revenge, getting them ‘onside’ and trying to turn them against their other parent.
"Divorce Your Loved One With Dignity" Bob Willoughby © , Frank Sinatra, on the Warner Brothers set of Marriage On The Rocks, 1965

Bob Willoughby © Frank Sinatra, on the Warner Brothers set of Marriage On The Rocks, 1965

On the surface you have an argument, often translated into a legal narrative of this statute and these cases, versus a countering position and cases. That is the lawyers’ attempts to try and reduce the fighting into something logical, with rational arguments that can be explained and reasoned. Mostly the parties don’t give a damn about all that, what they mind about is getting back at the bastard/ bitch who has ruined their life. This isn’t every case by any means, but it is common enough to be classified as a type of case I think of as ‘Bloodymindedness’.

If you know someone who has embarked on a divorce in this manner and you really care about them, you won’t simply listen to their rantings, you’ll gently question some of their statements and turn some of their thoughts on their head. For example, you might ask what the costs of fighting have been so far and talk about the type of holiday, car or suchlike they could have bought for that instead. If they blame it all on the other person, you might ask them what they did to try to change the dynamic. If they have tried, and many will have done, you might observe it is very difficult to get two warring people to make peace simultaneously, as they often both try, but at different times and get a bad response.

The beauty of mediating your settlement, arrangements for the children, divorce, whatever, is you go off from your first session together with a shared action-plan and joint commitment to changing boundaries and behaving differently. You can develop functional separated boundaries, with some rules you put in place about what ever is causing difficulty. Solicitors’ letters will not accomplish that. Mediation can turn things around and put you on a better path, people need to understand about that possibility, because it is game changing, and thank goodness for it.

Think of it as an escape hatch from misery for families who are splitting up.