When parties to a divorce or child custody action are disagreeing on issues, they may feel very strongly about their position. They may want the opportunity to have their dispute heard by the family court. And if the family court directs them to attempt to resolve the dispute in mediation, or some other form of alternative dispute resolution, they may feel like that would be a waste of time.
Their attorneys may be willing to pursue their wish for a day in court. That may require a less-than-valiant effort to settle the case with the mediator. But in such an instance, if an impasse is declared, it is not an intelligent impasse. It is an impasse by default.
An intelligent impasse is one in which each party has explored a range of possibilities beyond their strongly-held position. Or at least as wide a range as possible in the circumstances. If the issue has not been thoroughly explored in an effort to negotiate an agreement, then declaring an impasse is premature.
Similarly, if the case is pending, and the court wishes to know the status of the case, the parties may inform the court that there is no resolution, and the parties are at an impasse. It would be wrong for the case to proceed to trial, simply in the absence of a written stipulation. The courtroom should not be the place where, and the time when, the facts and circumstances of the issue are first explored in detail. Many judges will not be satisfied if alternate dispute resolution has been attempted nominally, but the parties have not made a sincere effort to reach a resolution.
So, if an attorney says, “Your Honor, we have not resolved the case, and we are ready for trial,” the question is, is it an intelligent impasse, or not?