What are alternatives to divorce court?

If you and your spouse have made the difficult decision to end your marriage, what happens next? The images of divorce court from a television show may enter your mind, where witnesses sit on the stand and yell at each other about painful memories. However, it does not have to be like this, and in most cases, divorces do not go to trial. In fact, you may never need to appear in court besides on the last day, for entry of your divorce decree. There are alternatives to litigation and having those options available can make the process far less stressful.

The first option is mediation. Mediation is a structured process where a neutral third party, who may or may not be an attorney (depending on the laws in your state), helps to resolve conflict using negotiation. Mediation allows you to be heard in a safe environment, where there is no “winner” and “loser”. A mediator is a completely neutral facilitator. A mediator cannot give you legal advice or counsel you on how to resolve your case. The mediator’s role is to facilitate a conversation where both parties can express their needs, concerns and goals and generate options to resolve disputes. There are many advantages to mediation. It allows each party to have more control over the outcome. It allows for creativity in how you divide assets, allocate time with children, and other very important issues. If you resolve all your issues with a mediator, then the agreement will be put in writing, and entered with the divorce court.

Another option is known as collaborative divorce. Collaborative law has a similar spirit to mediation, but it involves attorneys as well, who have specialized training in this approach, which is rather new. In a collaborative divorce, the spouses will not step into a courtroom. There are two types of Collaborative Law – with lawyers alone, as well as an Interdisciplinary approach. If the sessions are for parties and attorneys alone, everyone will work together to come to a reasonable resolution while also having the benefit of legal counsel who can give advice and opine as to the law. The second approach, interdisciplinary, allows other professionals to join the collaborative team to help the parties reach a resolution. For example, if the financial issues are complex, and the parties are business owners, or have a high net worth, a financial specialist may be brought in to assist. Likewise, if there are children involved, a specialist in that area may be brought in. Similar to mediation, the goal is to reach a fair and equitable agreement, where each side feels they were heard and had an opportunity to truly present their position – something a courtroom does not offer. It is important to note that in a collaborative divorce, the attorneys representing the parties cannot represent them in litigation, if the matter fails to settle. The client can rest assured that their attorney is strictly working to settle, rather than preparing for litigation on the side. If litigation becomes necessary, new attorneys must be hired.

Contact a family law attorneyHurst, Robin & Kay, is a full-service family law firm that has both mediators and collaborative attorneys available for those seeking non-traditional avenues in divorce.