If you are in a situation where divorce appears to be the only option, you should probably retain the services of a competent experienced family law attorney as early as possible to help guide you through the process and protect your interests. Just the same there are technically five distinct options for obtaining a divorce that you should at least be aware of before you have, in fact, retained an attorney. The following is a very brief summary of these options:
Do It Yourself Divorce
As the name suggest this option entails you and your spouse attempting to navigate the process without the help of legal or other types of professional assistance. Due to the legal and financial complexities of the process of divorce, however, this course of action will very rarely be appropriate. It will generally only make sense in very limited circumstances – think: short marriage, mutual objectives, no children, and few assets.
The divorce mediation process involves the use of a mediator to help both parties come to an agreement on all aspects of their divorce. The mediator, who should be neutral and not advocate for either party, may or may not be a lawyer but must be experienced and competent in family law issues. There are a variety of pros and cons to utilizing the process of mediation. However, both parties generally should still retain their own individual attorney to look out for their specific interests during the mediated divorce. Therefore, if you have an interest in this approach, I suggest that you find an appropriate attorney and discuss these pros and cons.
This approach to divorce is very similar to the mediation approach except that rather than utilizing a mediator, each spouse is represented by an attorney who specializes in this type of approach. In addition, the parties often work with divorce coaches, who are mental health professionals, a financial specialist, who is trained in divorce financial management, and, when there are children involved, a child specialist. The idea here is to attempt to create a cooperative environment with all parties committed to achieving a negotiated outcome. Again, as with mediation, there are a variety of pros and cons to this approach. However, one negative of this approach is that all parties must sign an agreement that requires that both attorneys withdraw from the case if a settlement is not reached and/or if litigation is threatened. Therefore, if this happens, the spouses must start the process over again with new attorneys.
As the name suggest, collaborative mediation is a combination of certain aspects from these two approaches. Rather than one mediator as in the case of mediation or two collaborative attorneys as in the case of collaborative divorce, one neutral attorney-mediator and a marriage/family counseling professional are utilized in an attempt to resolve the issues and reach an agreement.
This option is still the most common one, most likely because in the majority of divorce situations the decision to divorce is not mutual but rather one spouse wants the divorce and the other does not. This reduces the spouses’ ability to work together in the cooperative spirit required by the mediation and collaborative approaches. A litigated divorce, however, does not necessarily mean that the parties end up in a protracted court battle. In the vast majority of even traditional divorces, the spouses reach an out-of-court settlement. Moreover, even with the mediation and collaborative divorce process a judge will still need review and approve your divorce agreement and find that it is fair and reasonable.