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Journal Article

Participation and Flexibility in Informal Processes: Cautions from the Divorce Context

Howard S. Erlanger, Elizabeth Chambliss and Marygold S. Melli
Law & Society Review
Vol. 21, No. 4 (1987), pp. 585-604
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/3053597
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3053597
Page Count: 20
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Participation and Flexibility in Informal Processes: Cautions from the Divorce Context
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Abstract

Based on open-ended interviews with the parties and lawyers in twenty-five informally settled divorce cases, this study finds that the informal process is often contentious, adversarial, and beyond the perceived control of one or both parties. Although settlement in some cases reflects flexibility, party participation, and true agreement, in most cases it reflects unequal financial resources, procedural support, or emotional stamina. Parties report settling issues such as child support according to nonlegal, situational factors-particularly their relative impatience to finalize the divorce-and mutual satisfaction with settlement terms is low. Our findings raise questions about the assumed value of informal settlement. However, we recognize that informal processing of divorce is structurally and institutionally inevitable (with or without evidence of its desirability), and we suggest that reform efforts must ultimately recognize both the inevitability and the limits of informal process.

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