When you think about divorce, what is the first image that comes to mind? For me, it was always the courtroom with the lawyers battling it out for their clients. Spouses accusing one another of the laundry list of wrongdoings. The truth is that going to court in this manner is just one of the ways people can choose to go through divorce.
This month on Build Your Foundations, we will be starting the Basics of Divorce Series. For the month of September, we will review the different types of divorce which you and your spouse may consider as the best route for your family. We will launch the series with a high overview of a few different ways you may navigate your own divorce. In the following weeks, we will do a deeper dive into each type of divorce and go over the pros and cons of each type to help you choose which type of divorce is best for you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse to reach a settlement and also fit your budget.
This is that scene on tv that we all know of. Even Divorce Court is just that, a couple going to court to have a judge decide what their future lives will look like as the couple decides to duke it out on the silver screen. In litigation, each spouse hires an attorney on retainer to represent their best interest in the divorce. When you hire an attorney, it is not just one attorney who is usually hired but the entire team – the main attorney, an associate who handles most of the work, a paralegal, and any assistants. This is why costs can build up pretty quickly. This team will handle everything from filling every motion, request, and order, to helping you strategize the best outcome for you. Every email, phone call, any contact with the team is billed. When you hire a litigator, they were hired to fight on your behalf, right, wrong, or anything in between, the goal is for you to win, equaling they have a win. Depending on who you hire, things can escalate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s team very quickly and extend much longer than you had originally hoped.
Collaborative Practice is a more amicable way of divorce where both spouses are represented by their respective attorneys. In a collaborative divorce, there are normally four professionals who work with the couple. Besides the two attorneys, there is a mental health professional and a financial-neutral professional. Each professional member of the team has been through hours of training to be a part of the collaborative group. Each professional member’s goal is to help the couple come to an amicable and collaborative resolution to the divorce. Instead of going into a meeting with the intention to fight, all parties agree that the intention is to come up with a solution that works for both spouses. The financial neutral professional puts together the couple’s balance sheet and will review asset division scenarios for the couple and their attorneys to negotiate and come up with a settlement that works for all parties. Sometimes, other professionals may be hired to help out the team such as a real estate professional, a forensic accountant, co-parenting coach as well as other professionals.
If the collaborative process does not work out for the couple, by definition of the collaborative practice, the couple will need to start all over again with new attorneys and new professionals and a blank slate.
A cooperative divorce may look similar to the collaborative practice but may be more of a verbal agreement between the couple and the couples’ attorneys to agree to work together for an amicable resolution but if an agreement is unable to be reached, the couple is not obligated to start the whole process over with a brand new team, as they would be in collaborative practice. They can retain their current attorneys and move forward in preparation for litigation.
Also with a cooperative divorce, the attorneys may utilize a mediator to help facilitate the flow of the process of working out a settlement agreement as well as hiring a financial neutral professional to help review the financial situation for the couple.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)
ADR may be required in the state you are divorcing in. In the state of Washington, ADR is a requirement prior to a couple deciding to go into litigation and meeting before a judge. Most divorces, I believe the last number I had read was that 95% of divorces are resolved in some form of alternative dispute resolution. Working with a mediator, whether in a cooperative divorce or directly with the mediator and without attorneys is one form of ADR. If your divorce situation is fairly amicable, you may be able to save time and money by working with a mediator instead of hiring two separate attorneys and their teams on retainer in hopes of reaching an agreement that works for all parties.
Arbitration is another form of ADR. If mediation does not work and as a last-ditch effort, an arbitrator can be hired to review your case and decide for you how things should be divided and your divorce processed. An arbitrator will make the final decision for your divorce and present it to the judge.
Another avenue accepted by the courts as an Alternative Dispute Resolution is working with a Certified Divorce Coach. Most certified divorce coaches work as an advocate for one of the spouses but there are divorce coaches who may work as a neutral to help a couple work through their divorce.
PRO SE – DO IT YOURSELF
The last approach is Pro Se or Doourself. In a Pro Se divorce, you and your spouse decide on the asset division, spousal and/or child support payments, as well as a parenting plan. You file all of the documents with the court without hiring attorneys to get involved. Many couples who agree to do a Pro Se divorce may end up hiring a financial neutral person to review the asset division scenarios to help the couple to come up with the fairest and equitable division of marital property. The couple may also choose to hire someone to help with the document filings as it can be daunting. Many courthouses have people who can help you fill out forms and direct you to which forms need to be filed.
As you or your spouse start to think about moving forward with a divorce, know that there are options other than fighting in court. You may be able to save money and lots of heartaches in the present and in the future by looking at other ways to end your marriage.
Please join us next week on Build Your Foundations as we continue to the Basics of Divorce and the types of divorce and dive deeper into learning more about Litigation.