The Many Methods to Get Divorced
You’ve decided you want to get divorced, or legally separated. Now what? You may have heard stories or advice from friends, family, or internet searches, and it’s different each time. Your concept of lawyers and divorce may stem from what you see on TV, or read in a John Grisham novel. You might have heard terms like custody battle, take him to the cleaners, fight it out in court, and are gearing up for a fight. On the flipside, you might be in complete agreement with your spouse on the terms of your divorce, and just need to file the paperwork to reflect this.
The truth is, there are many different approaches to getting a divorce. While divorce or legal separation is a legal process, and a legal procedure must be followed, there are different ways to work out the terms of your divorce. All states will require you to file initial paperwork with the court to start the case, and final paperwork that is signed by a judge and states that you are now divorced.
Put aside what you’ve heard from other people. Divorce is specific to you and the facts of your situation. What you want during the divorce process could be completely different than the friend or parent advising you on what to do. You might want very little court involvement and the ability to work out the terms of your divorce between you and your spouse. You could have a complex situation and need to be advised by an attorney and other experts. You may need a judge to decide your case because you and your soon-to-be ex are unable to come to any agreement, after trying everything you can to work one out. There could be domestic violence or abuse in your marriage and you need to take safety measures in your divorce.
The following is a list of the various methods to how you can work out the terms of your divorce. This is a brief overview of the process options to get divorced. Keep in mind that different states have different laws on divorce, so be sure to consult with an attorney if you have any questions about what you should do.
DIY or Kitchen Table Divorce
You may think that you need an attorney to get divorced, but you absolutely do not (although I always recommend consulting with one at least once during the course of your case). If your divorce is fairly simple and you and your spouse are willing and able to fill out the divorce documents on your own and sign them, you can handle your divorce on your own. Divorce forms can typically be obtained at the court clerk’s office, or downloaded from your state court website.
You can also use “unbundled services” where you hire an attorney to help you by consulting with them, using them to review your documents, or using them to prepare one or all of your documents. Most attorneys offer this as part of their practice and they typically do not require you to pay a retainer. It is always a good idea to have an attorney review your documents prior to submitting them to the court.
Court involvement = Low (usually just to enter the sign the final documents)
Mediation is a voluntary, guided process where a neutral person, the mediator, helps you and your spouse to come to an agreement. At the end of mediation you will have an agreement that you, your spouse, and the mediator signs. Attorneys may or may not be involved in the mediation process. You can use mediation at any time during your divorce. You can mediate your entire divorce, or just one thing that you are having trouble agreeing on. You can consult with an attorney prior to making an agreement, or use other professionals, like a financial advisor, or a child specialist to help with making a decision. If you come to an agreement in mediation, you will still need to prepare your divorce documents to submit along with your agreement.
Court involvement = Low to medium depending on where in the process you decide to mediate
The Collaborative Divorce process is another out of court resolution process, similar to mediation in that it is voluntary and it is used to work out an agreement rather than letting a judge decide. The requirement to pursuing a Collaborative Divorce, is that each spouse is represented by an attorney trained in the Collaborative Divorce Process and that both spouses sign an agreement that as long as they use these attorneys they are not allowed to file anything in court, unless by agreement. Attorneys help to guide the spouses to an agreement that meets both spouse’s needs through joint meetings where the spouses and attorneys are present. The team may decide to use other professionals to help make informed decisions. There is usually a mental health professional on the team to help manage the emotion of the case. Other professionals may include a Certified Divorce and Financial Analyst for financial issues, and a child specialist for parenting decisions.
Court involvement = Low (usually just to sign the final agreement)
This is different than a Collaborative Divorce since there is no agreement to keep the case out of court. Both parties may be represented by attorneys, or one side may have an attorney and the other side represents themselves. Negotiations are usually in the form of offers of settlement and responses to these offers, either in an in person meeting, or via correspondence. This is the traditional method that most people use to get divorced. The way your divorce is handled depends largely on the style of practice of the attorneys involved.
Court involvement = Low to High (parties can take an issue to court at any time)
If the parties are unable to agree on the terms of divorce, but want to be divorced, then a judge must make the final decision on what the terms should be. This can only be done through presenting evidence at a trial. The trial is decided by a judge. Whatever the judge decides is what the parties must follow, regardless of whether they agree with the decision. Trials take place after months, and sometimes years, of gathering evidence to present to the judge. The actual trial could be as short as a half a day, or may take up to a week or more depending on the complexities of the case. You can represent yourself at trial, or hire an attorney to represent you.
Court involvement = Very High
Whatever you choose to do, the important thing to remember is that you have options in how to get divorced. The process that you choose can have a major impact on how you and your family experience the divorce. It is important to find the right process for you and your family, and the right professionals who can guide you through it. Divorce is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. Take the time to educate yourself on what your options are.
If you need more information and/or clarity on this topic, contact me for a free consultation.