If you are contemplating divorce and if you are like most people, battling with your spouse in a courtroom may be the only option for divorcing with which you are familiar. It is certainly the way most glorified in movies, such as War of the Roses. Nasty courtroom battles over children and marital property, such as those waged by Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen or Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin, dominate the news headlines on this topic. A long, drawn out and bitter divorce is not your only option. Here are a few options for obtaining your divorce.
This option may work for you if: (a) your spouse does not contest the divorce; (b) you do not have minor children; (c) you do not have community property to divide and (d) domestic violence is not an issue. If this is your situation, then obtaining a divorce can be a relatively straight forward process. The upside to this method is that there is a significant cost savings. The downside to this method is that you could end up having to hire an attorney to fix a mess (which is usually more expensive than hiring an attorney in the first place) if you do not follow the proper procedure for obtaining your divorce.
Mediation is a process wherein the divorcing couple meet with a neutral third-party (known as a “mediator”) to negotiate the terms of their divorce, such as child custody, child and/or spousal support, and property divisions. The mediator doesn’t represent either person in a legal capacity. Rather, he or she facilitates discussion, encouraging the couple to identify creative options in an effort to find solutions.
Once you reach an agreement, then you would have an attorney draft the necessary pleadings and judgments to be filed with the court. Even if you have already hired an attorney, it isn’t too late to mediate. If you don’t have an attorney, most mediators have a list of mediation-friendly attorneys who will work with to review your agreement and to prepare documents.
Collaborative Divorce is a team-based approach to assisting couples in working toward a negotiated settlement of all issues related to their divorce. In fact, the couple agrees from the start not to fight in court. The team pulls in members from different areas, such as attorneys, a financial expert, a child specialist and divorce coaches. Given that divorce is the “perfect storm” where emotion, finances and the law collide, having team members from each of these disciplines allows the couple to work with the team member(s) best-suited for a particular task. For example, the divorce coaches and child specialist (who are all trained mental health professionals) work with the couple to devise a parenting plan.
This approach is the traditional one with which people are most familiar. In this approach, the couple are pitted one against the other and in order to “win” custody of the children or any other issue, they become engaged in a fight to prove their point to the court. This fight often requires parents to tear one another apart in an open courtroom. When it is all said and done, these same parents are then often sent off to “co-parent” their children, which requires cooperation in order to be successful. Sadly, the wounds of the courtroom linger and make successful co-parenting a difficult goal to obtain. Guess who suffers? The children. While attorneys’ fees and costs are least predictable and controllable in a litigated divorce as compared to other options, the emotional toll of litigation may be even greater.
Like anything else, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to divorce. Each one of these options has its place depending upon your individual circumstances. It is best to make a decision after evaluating your own situation and consulting with an experienced family law attorney who will speak candidly with you about each option.