Professional Pathways to Divorce
There are four common pathways to handle your divorce, one of which can be done yourself and the other three by professionals. Most people are aware of the (1) do it yourself divorce, (2) mediation, (3) litigation, and (4) collaborative law.
Do It Yourself Divorce
The do-it-yourself divorce is exactly what is sounds like. The divorcing spouses try to reach a divorce settlement agreement without help and each party files the requisite paperwork with the court. The positive side to this kind of divorce is that you can do it at almost zero cost. The downside is that most people who try to handle their own divorce mess it up. Do-it-yourselfers spend a silly amount of time trying to figure out how to file their paperwork which they usually do incorrectly, thereby never end up being actually divorced. The do-it-yourselfers who figure it out often miss critical aspects in their settlement agreement which opens a can of worms down the road. My office receives a high volume of callers who tried to handle their divorce without professional help and need help cleaning up the mess.
Mediation is a process where the divorcing spouses meet with a neutral third party who helps the divorcing spouses choose a divorce settlement agreement that works for them. Divorce mediators are not on either spouse’s side but rather the side of helping the spouses reach an agreement. The mediator is present to ensure that the negotiations are organized, stay on track, and provide some education about the law. Unlike most other mediators, my office also handles the paperwork. Mediation is great for people who want to divorce quickly, cost efficiently, privately, and maintain control over the outcome of their settlement. People who use a mediator are also allowed to use a lawyer if they choose but most people represent themselves. The average time it takes for a mediated divorce is about half of that compared to a litigated divorce. Mediations are also considered cost efficient because instead of paying for two individual attorneys with high rates, the spouses are paying one mediator who is already at a lower cost than a lawyer. Since mediation is about choosing your own agreement, mediation is not good for people who are fearful of the other spouse or have a drug/alcohol problem.
Everyone has heard of divorce lawyers. The idea is that each spouse hires an attorney to advocate on their behalf. On paper this sounds awesome, but often times divorce attorneys create more work than is really necessary to up their fees. However, some people should absolutely have divorce attorneys. People who have little to no idea about the marital property, were in an abusive relationship, or have drug/alcohol problems need someone to advocate on their behalf. Divorce attorneys are expensive and sometimes well worth the cost. On the downside; the clients could end up going through a divorce that takes years, leaves their pockets empty, and with judgment that nobody wants.
In collaborative law the divorcing spouses work with a team of professionals. Right of the bat the lawyers sign an agreement that says they will not take the case to trial. Some other professionals involved in the collaborative process include divorce coaches, therapists, financial analysts, and child specialists. If the collaborative process doesn’t work, the divorcing spouses have to go out and find new lawyers to start litigating. Some other issues with collaborative law are high costs due to an excessive number of experts and lengthy divorce because of scheduling conflicts amongst the professionals. Collaborative law makes sense for people who want to avoid litigation but also want an advocate, and aren’t afraid of high fees.
What’s Best For You?
Only you know the details of your situation, therefore only you can decide what path to take. For most people the do-it-yourself divorce is risky because it’s rarely done correctly, therefore creates more problems. Mediation is good if you feel confident to speak up on your own behalf and want an amicable settlement. Litigation is a solid choice if you have money to spend and feel like you need to have someone advocating for you. Collaborative law works for people who want to settle but also want an advocate and have the money to spend.
Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. If you have legal questions related to your divorce, contact your attorney.