The “Good Enough” Settlement Agreement

Divorce and Family Mediator, Susan Ingram, discusses settlement agreements.

Exactly what do I mean by a “good-enough” settlement agreement? Although it’s an amusing and somewhat awkward phrase, in the context of family mediation, it has some very positive attributes.

Actually, it’s easier to first describe the opposite of the good-enough agreement. That would be the more-than-enough or have-it-all agreement. To simplify my discussion in this blog, though, let’s just call this other option the “perfect” agreement.

All too often, our society assumes that conflict needs to be resolved in an adversarial process through our court system. So, for instance, in the case of a contested (litigated) divorce, this adversarial process encourages each party’s lawyer to fixate only on getting as much as possible for their client, to the detriment of the other.

They’re aiming for the perfect agreement I referred to above. But the problem is, it ends up being the perfect agreement for one side only. For the other side, it’s very much less than perfect and, in fact, it can be devastating for the other party as well as for the children of the marriage who are caught in the middle of the conflict.

Now, contrast that with couples who instead seek an uncontested divorce through the process of mediation. Most already understand to some degree that their agreement cannot be one-sided (that is, it can’t be the perfect agreement for just one of them), and that they need to work together so that it works out best for everyone – both of them and their children. To that end, as their mediator, I help them identify their needs, problem-solve and reach solutions that they see as basically fair for both.

And that’s where the good-enough agreement comes in. It does not meet the criteria of the perfect agreement for either of them. It does, however, meet many (but not all) of the needs of each of them – which is a good thing. It’s a living and breathing document that describes the reality of their situation now and into the future and enables them to move forward, positively and constructively, with their lives.

So why would anyone even want a perfect agreement when a good-enough agreement is perfectly good enough!

I welcome your thoughts on this subject.

Comments from Social Media


I too serve as a mediator and I am amazed by how people go from loving each other so much to hating each other so much. It takes a lot of energy and brain matter to live life that way. When I work with couples, I encourage them both to take the high road – – why gut the person who is the mother or father of your children? For the rest of their life, they will have to see each other at graduations, weddings, baby showers, births, grand-children’s affairs. When both parties take the high road, it certainly keeps them out of the court room and alleviates some of the stress felt by all family members.

Anita Daniels


Good enough is the reality of as-good-as-it-gets. Any mediator or other professional in the field has great reason to be proud if s/he helps a family achieve it.

Daniel J. Hynan, Ph.D.


A just right and not perfect agreement can cost thousands less in legal fees. Fantastic article Susan!

Stacy Francis, President & CEO of Francis Financial, Inc


3 responses on “The “Good Enough” Settlement Agreement

  1. Frances Hayward

    I agree with what you have written. A mediated settlement agreement has a much lower “see-you-back-in-court” risk than a litigated judgment. People who mediate their divorce tend to abide by the terms of their agreement because each spouse understands the trade-offs made and each spouse has gotten enough of what he or she thinks is important. I tell my clients that a good agreement is one in which each ex-spouse, three years or so after their divorce, considers that agreement fair and workable.

  2. Dr. Nancy Freeman-Carroll

    I like this idea of a “good-enough” divorce agreement! Like the idea of a “good-enough mother” which comes from the great pediatrician/psychologist Winnicott, and emphasizes that mothers can not possibly always be right on and perfectly attuned to their children, a “good enough” agreement takes into account that life is unpredictable! Neither parent can predict exactly what kind of child they will have as the child grows–active? musical? in need of special help with school? sociable or shy? comfortable with transitions? or distracted and apt to forget belongings, homework, etc. to name only a few possibilities of how a child’s needs will evolve. A “good enough” agreement can leave room for parents and children to grow and change over time, and have their needs met as well as possible.

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