No couple decides to marry and intertwine their futures – while planning to divorce years later. However, many couples find themselves facing just that. A life altering change that they did not plan for, but must navigate through together in order to move towards their individual futures.
No matter how long a couple has been married, the presence of children, or the financial assets involved, every divorcing couple has several options to create the settlement and finalize the split. Each relationship is unique as is every divorce, however there are four general methods for a couple to resolve the issues in dispute and finalize their divorce.
This is the “traditional” divorce process where lawyers are retained. It is by nature an adversarial process and is most often how couples “fight it out” – using attorneys to represent them.
In a litigated divorce each person gets their own attorney to represent them. Ethically attorneys can only represent one person or side in any action, so the divorcing couple cannot retain a joint attorney.
Once retained, each attorney gets all of the financial and other pertinent data (discovery), reviews it, and creates a settlement offer. Due to the adversarial process, the attorneys focus on the areas of advantage and disagreement between the couple. Each divorce lawyer attempts to work out a settlement that favors their client. During the process communication between the couple is often funneled through the attorneys. This is an adversarial process of letting the attorneys “fight it out” and, as a result often increases the conflict between the divorcing couple. A litigated divorce is a drawn out and costly process, regardless of the couples initial intentions. It is even possible that the couple will not be able to reach a full divorce settlement through their attorneys and the terms of the divorce are settled through a trial.
A lessor known option for divorcing couples, collaborative divorce can be looked at as a hybrid of the litigated divorce and a mediated divorce process. Couples that choose a collaborative divorce do agree not to litigate and have to obtain new counsel should the collaborative process end unsuccessfully. At a minimum, in a collaborative divorce, each person retains his or her own trained collaborative divorce attorney. Additional collaborative divorce professionals may be brought on as appropriate including divorce coaches and neutral financial or child specialists.
Regardless of the number of professionals retained, all must be trained in collaborative divorce as it is a different process than a litigated divorce. Like a litigated divorce the attorneys work out a divorce settlement agreement. Like mediation, and unlike a litigated divorce, the collaborative divorce attorneys build off of the areas of agreement and work with the other collaborative professionals retained by the couple to quickly create a settlement that meets the needs and wants of the couple. Since the collaborative divorce attorneys and professionals are focused on building on the agreements, the process is significantly more efficient and cost-effective than a litigated divorce – despite the additional professionals involved.
The most peaceful and efficient means of creating a divorce with the assistance of a divorce professional is divorce mediation. In divorce mediation a couple chooses a neutral professional mediator who is trained to facilitate effective communication and agreement between the divorcing couple. Building off the shared areas of agreement no matter how small, the mediator enables the couple to quickly create a divorce settlement where both spouses are in full agreement as to the terms.
Often known as the path to a “win-win” solution, divorce mediation is the only means involving an outside divorce professional that directly gives the couple the control over the settlement process and agreements. It is a confidential and private means of creating a divorce settlement. Couples who choose mediation, may or may not have filed legal divorce papers prior to meeting with a mediator. In addition, in the rare event that mediation fails and litigation occurs, state law bars the information disclosed and discussed in the mediation session from being used in future litigation.
— More Information About Divorce Mediation: Available Here —
Pro Se Divorce
A Pro Se, the legal term for a do-it-yourself or DIY, divorce is also an option for couples who have agreed to divorce. Although all divorces must be completed legally through the courts, couples can always choose to work out a settlement, complete, and file the necessary paperwork on their own. There are some options to assist couples choosing this option as well, including online paperwork completion services, but many couples simply download or pick up the forms and instructions directly from the court clerk.
In a DIY divorce, creating and writing the specific settlement is fully up to the couple. Some couples do opt to mediate the settlement as described above then complete and file the legal paperwork on their own. It is likely that a couple would choose to keep the process and specifics of their settlement private if they choose a DIY divorce since they would work working together to resolve the issues.
Regardless of the divorce process chosen by the couple, they may have to access other (allied) professionals to assist them in separating and setting up financial accounts, determining the value of their assets, selling property, etc. Depending on the process chosen and ethics governing them, these people may work for one of both spouses.
Going through a divorce is generally emotionally difficult and many report feeling powerless and a frustrating lack of control over the traditional litigated process. It is important that all couples know their options and choose the process that will best work for them.
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