I learned a new phrase this morning. It's called "coercive settlement". What I'm about to say is 100% factual, or else I could get into legal trouble. On the day that I settled, I was basically forced to sign a biased, extremely one-sided agreement. It was our last pre-trial hearing.
To her credit, the Judge was AMAZING and she stepped off her bench to try to get us to compromise. We were both seeking full custody, but to compromise I offered 50/50 custody. He would not budge on full custody. The Judge got fed up and told us to pick trial dates. I didn't want to go to trial. I had no money left, my hair was falling out from stress, and I'd developed an ulcer. I was done. I just wanted to be put out of my misery.
I spoke up and begged the Judge to let the father have one more day a week to give him the residential custosy, thereby ending the nightmare. She paused for a moment, and agreed. His side erupted with protest. My lawyer was fuming, as I'm sure he was looking forward to the trial billables. The Judge told his side that if they didn't agree, she would make him pay every single penny of the trial.
I was now in an unpredictable situation, but I didn't care; I just wanted to be put out of my misery. We went out into the hallway and his lawyer pulled out a pre-written agreement. My lawyer did not. It was 44 pages long. I sat there for hours trying to read it as quickly as possible while my lawyer stood over my head, huffing, red faced, repeatedly screaming "Sign it! JUST SIGN IT!".
I tried negotiating and rewriting, but I was not as fluent in the legalese as I am today. In the end, I agreed to some crazy BS like having "3 back and forth emails about a decision, but if we disagree he gets to win" (is that really even a choice?!). I wished I could have taken it to read overnight and mull it over, but in the whirlwind I missed a few clauses that were horrible. The agreement was poorly written, vague, ambiguous, and full of room for interpretation. We've had many fights about interpretations ever since.
When it ended, the Judge asked me the standard questions. One of them was about coercion. Ofcourse I said NO because if I said yes, the Judge would get mad at me. Was I basically left to my own devices trying to interpret a badly written, tricky 44 page legally binding agreement while everyone around me was pressuring me and screaming at me to sign it? Yup. Did I feel coerced as hell? You bet. Did I dare say that? No way. In the end I gave up all my rights. It was worth it, because the intense tyranny of the custody battle drove me to my psychological limit and I couldn't take it anymore. I made a choice to take an awful situation and make the best of it. I made a Sophie's Choice. This is why our legal system is a damn joke. Settlement is not a peaceful event, but often looks like this.