The term impasse” refers to the type of situation where no further progress can be made, and all possible options have been exhausted. For example, an impasse in a legal case would be the failure of the parties to reach a settlement, despite going through mediation and exhausting all good faith efforts to do the same. In this case, the matter would then proceed to trial so that a judge could help the parties come to a final resolution. To explore this concept, consider the following impasse definition.

Definition of Impasse


  1. A situation wherein the parties are unable to reach an agreement, despite exhausting every good faith effort to try to do exactly that.


1850-55           French

What is an Impasse?

The term “impasse” is used to refer to a situation that, despite everyone’s best efforts, they simply cannot agree. Impasses come up all the time in divorce court, for example. The parties may honestly try to settle the matter without having to bring it before a judge. They may go to mediation, or they may try to draft up a settlement agreement with their attorneys, so they can sign it and be on their way. However, they simply cannot come to an agreement on matters like child support or alimony (also called “spousal support”), or whether they should sell the marital residence.

Once all possible efforts have been exhausted, then the parties have no choice but to bring their case before a judge and ask for the court to intervene. The judge will then weigh all the facts of the case and make a decision that, ideally, is in both parties’ best interests. In this example, the judge may determine the figure the husband is supposed to pay to the wife for alimony, or he may decide when and how the marital residence should be sold. For instance, in some cases, the wife is permitted to keep the house until the children are old enough to live on campus at school, so as to not upset the children’s daily lives in having to suddenly move.

Impasse Example Involving the DACA and DAPA Programs

An example of an impasse can be found in the case of United States v. Texas, which was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in April of 2016. This case concerned the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was employed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012.

The DACA program is an immigration policy that grants temporary forgiveness to people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Under DACA, these people are allowed to receive a renewable, two-year period wherein they do not have to fear deportation and can be eligible to file for a work permit that will enable them to work while here in America.

In 2014, the DHS expanded DACA to increase eligibility. The DHS also created a new but similar program that same year, called DAPA – the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program – which existed to help the parents of those U.S. citizens who became citizens by birthright. However, the state of Texas, along with other states, sued to prevent the implementation of DAPA. They argued that the DAPA program was unconstitutional, that it was arbitrary and unpredictable, and that those in charge did not go through the proper channels to clear it.

Quick interesting fact: while there were 3.6 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. at the time the lawsuit was filed, only 1.4 million of them actually lived in the states that banded together to file the lawsuit.

The first court to hear the case was the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. In February of 2015, the judge granted an injunction to prevent the very things that were permitted under the DACA program. The government asked the court to lift the injunction and proposed a partial stay, which would effectively allow every state other than Texas to implement the DACA program. The judge denied both requests on the grounds that irreparable harm could befall the country, among other reasons.

The Obama Administration then appealed the injunction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans and asked for a stay. The court affirmed the injunction and remanded the case back to the lower court for trial.

The government then requested the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case – a request the court granted. In addition to determining whether the states’ claims were valid, the Supreme Court also had to decide whether the states ever had the right to file the claim in the first place.

Here is where an example of an impasse comes in. The Court announced that it had become deadlocked 4-4 in attempting to make a decision. The Court simply stated, in an unsigned decision, that “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.” The ruling, which was expected to set precedent – and which ultimately did not – simply caused the preliminary injunction that was blocking the progress of the program to remain in place.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Alimony – Court-ordered payments from one spouse to another that are scheduled to commence upon the finalization of the parties’ divorce.
  • Injunction – A court order preventing an individual or entity from beginning or continuing an action.
  • Stay – The act of temporarily putting a stop to a proceeding by way of an order from the court.