Ending a marriage is never easy for several reasons. While your divorce is likely to pose significant emotional challenges, it is also going to influence your life in several other ways. It can be difficult to determine the best approach to your divorce, and it’s essential to know the value of experienced legal representation when you are ending your marriage. One of the most important choices you will need to make is whether you plan to take your divorce to court or if you will try to settle it privately.
Many divorcing couples across the country are using alternative dispute resolution to handle their divorces due to the several advantages this provides compared to standard divorce litigation. Whether you want to finalize your divorce as quickly as possible, save money on legal fees, or reach the most agreeable divorce terms, alternative dispute resolution can help you accomplish all of these goals.
What Does Divorce Litigation Involve?
If you or your spouse are completely unwilling to try alternative dispute resolution, you should prepare to go to court to handle your dissolution proceedings. When you litigate divorce, the case plays out similarly to most other civil cases. You and your spouse will both need to attend various hearings, you will both have the opportunity to testify, and you will both be able to offer evidence for the court’s consideration. Your respective attorneys have the right to cross-examination, and the judge overseeing the case will carefully consider all proceedings to deliver a fair and legally enforceable ruling.
While this may seem like the fairest and most realistic way to handle your divorce, you should know the drawbacks of divorce litigation. Primarily, it will take much longer than alternative dispute resolution, therefore costing you more in legal fees. The more time your attorney must spend handling your case and representing you in court, the more their services will cost.
Perhaps the most important drawback to handling your divorce through litigation is the fact that the judge has the final say on every aspect of your divorce. No matter how compelling your evidence and arguments may be, there is no promise that the judge will see things the same way you do. You could end up with a divorce order that’s completely different than what you anticipated. Ultimately, if you are going to litigate your divorce, you must accept the fact that you have little to no control over the outcome.
What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution in Divorce?
As the name implies, alternative dispute resolution is another way to resolve your divorce without the stress, expense, or time commitment required for litigation. If you and your spouse are willing to engage in civil private negotiations, it’s possible to complete your divorce in a fraction of the time that litigation would require. Additionally, you have much more control over the pace of your proceedings and the overall outcome.
The two most commonly used forms of alternative dispute resolution for divorce in the U.S. are collaborative divorce and mediation. In collaborative divorce, the divorcing spouses and their respective attorneys meet privately to negotiate the terms of their divorce. While many couples find this to be effective, mediation has become the preferred method of alternative dispute resolution for divorce due to the additional security and peace of mind it can provide.
In divorce mediation, the process unfolds similarly to collaborative divorce with one key difference. The couple’s negotiations proceed under the guidance of a neutral mediator. This mediator is tasked with ensuring the discussions remain on task and productive. The mediator should not hold any conflicts of interest that would favor either of the spouses, and they cannot provide either spouse with any direct legal advice. However, they can clarify relevant legal statutes and will help the couple draft their divorce order.
While alternative dispute resolution can allow a divorcing couple to settle their dissolution proceedings more quickly and efficiently than litigation would permit, there are some drawbacks. First, alternative dispute resolution is only possible if both spouses agree to try it. If either spouse demands a trial, the divorce must proceed through litigation. Second, you cannot resolve every issue your divorce might entail in private negotiations. Specifically, divorcing parents cannot resolve child custody or child support privately. The family court system must ensure their custody and support terms suit the best interests of their children, so this aspect of divorce demands formal legal review.
Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution
As long as both you and your spouse are willing to try alternative dispute resolution, both of you can take advantage of the benefits this option offers. First, you will both save significant amounts of time on your divorce. This translates to lower legal fees and less time spent in tedious and emotionally challenging legal proceedings. In most cases, a divorcing spouse will spend a fraction of what they would in litigation when they successfully complete alternative dispute resolution.
Beyond savings of time and money, alternative dispute resolution also allows you to exercise more control over your divorce. You and your spouse will be able to negotiate more personalized terms for your divorce order than a judge would likely deliver if you litigated. Even if you and your spouse fight about everything and you can’t imagine having a civil discussion with them regarding your divorce terms, it is still worth exploring alternative dispute resolution. You could potentially resolve some aspects of your divorce before moving to litigation, streamlining the overall divorce process.
Do I Really Need a Divorce Attorney?
Regardless of how you decide to settle your divorce, you need legal representation to guide you through your proceedings. While it may be technically possible to settle your divorce without an attorney, doing so would be incredibly difficult and entail a large margin of error. You could overlook crucial details of your divorce or make calculation errors that lead to significant delays in your proceedings. You could also fail to recognize opportunities to streamline your proceedings and would likely spend much more time resolving your divorce than you would have with legal counsel on your side.
Whether you plan to litigate your divorce or explore alternative dispute resolution, it is always best to have legal representation for your divorce. If you are unsure what to expect in your divorce case or whether alternative dispute resolution is right for your situation, consult an experienced divorce attorney to discuss your situation.