Back in the dark ages (i.e. when I was young) everyone got divorced pretty much the same way. Once you decided you wanted a divorce, you went to a lawyer, filed papers in court, had your spouse served with a summons, and fought in court until you settled or went to trial. That was your only choice. No other divorce process existed.
Thankfully, things have changed. While the divorce system in this country is still a very long way from being perfect, at least there are now many different processes you can use to get through your divorce besides simply going to court and fighting until you are broke, exhausted, or eventually hammer out a deal with your spouse.
Here are four different ways to get divorced, and one way that many people think they can get divorced though they really can’t:
1. Litigation aka "Fighting in Court".
Litigation is the traditional way that people have been getting divorced for decades. If you are using litigation to resolve your case, then you and your spouse should both get lawyers (or not), one of you should file your case in court, one of you gets served with court papers, and your case begins. You go through a formal discovery process and go around and around in court until you either settle your case or go to trial.
Divorce litigation is the most expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally exhausting way to go through a divorce. It forces you to air your dirty laundry in public. It also requires you to give a significant amount of control over your family, your finances and your future to a total stranger in a black robe.
Yet, for all of its drawbacks, litigation is still the best way to resolve cases in which one or both spouses refuses to turn over financial information or follow the rules. If you or your spouse have high conflict personalities, or one of you refuses to participate in the divorce process, going to court is probably the only way you are going to be able to realistically resolve your case.
Mediation is an out of court dispute resolution process in which a mediator, who is an independent, neutral third party, tries to help you and your spouse resolve your case. While the mediator may be a lawyer, she/he can not give you legal advice. The mediator also will not draft all of the legal documents you need to get divorced. The mediator’s sole job is to try to help you settle your case and to write up whatever agreement you make.
Mediation is typically much less expensive than litigation. It gives you more control of your divorce and it enables you to create a much more flexible agreement than what you would typically get from a judge. Finally, mediation is also much more private than litigation.
Unfortunately, though, mediation won’t work for everyone.
You can only mediate your case if you and your spouse are both willing to produce complete financial information to the mediator and each other. While you can have a lawyer present with you during mediation, most mediation occurs with only you, your spouse, and the mediator in the room. That means that if you can’t speak up for yourself, or if you are afraid of your spouse, mediating your divorce may not be your best choice. (This is particularly true in cases involving domestic violence.)
3. Collaborative Divorce.
Collaborative divorce is a relatively new divorce process in which you, your spouse, and your attorneys work together to resolve your divorce issues outside of court. Collaborative divorce utilizes a team approach. In addition to divorce lawyers, you and your spouse may also have a divorce coach, a neutral financial expert, and a child specialist. Not all cases, however, need a full team of experts. The size of your team depends on the complexity of your case, and your own needs.
Collaborative divorce provides the most divorce support of any of the divorce processes. While it is not the least expensive process, and it is also considerably less expensive than going to trial. It is also arguably one of the best divorce processes for preserving a working relationship with your ex after your divorce, which is particularly important if you have children.
The hallmark of collaborative divorce is the agreement that everyone signs in the beginning, which says that if, for any reason, you or your spouse decides to fight in court, then all of the collaborative professionals must withdraw and you and your spouse have to start all over again with new lawyers and new divorce professionals. This agreement keeps everyone moving toward the same goal – to resolve your case amicably, outside of court, in a way that meets the needs of you, your spouse, and your children.
4. DIY or “Pro Se” Divorce.
Do it yourself (DIY), or “pro se” divorce is not exactly a divorce process. It simply means that no matter which divorce process you choose, you decide to do it yourself, without lawyers. Since you can not use the collaborative divorce process without lawyers, going the DIY route means that you are either going to mediate your case, or fight in court on your own.
Unless you and your spouse are both able to support yourselves and you have no children, no property, no business interests and a short marriage, representing yourself in a divorce is generally a bad idea. It will save you money in attorney’s fees initially, but if you mess things up (and most people do) you will pay ten times more, in the end, trying to fix the mistakes you made in the beginning.
If you decide you want to try a DIY divorce, you can still hire a lawyer to give you legal advice, without having that lawyer actually represent you throughout your case. You can pay a lawyer to educate you about your legal rights and responsibilities, give you an opinion about your options, and/or review your documents. You can even hire a lawyer to draft your documents for you. Then you can take the documents to court and do the rest of your divorce yourself.
5. Online Divorce.
If you explore around the internet searching for information about divorce, you will inevitably come across websites advertising "online divorce" and it's important that you know that there is no such thing! The internet is amazing, and it can do a lot of things, but only a judge can divorce you. That means that one way or another, you have to go to court.
What you get when you go for an "online divorce" is online document production. That is, you pay to get certain divorce documents written online. Then the computer program takes you through a series of questions. You answer the questions and the program then spits out your divorce papers. After that, you have to get the documents signed and walk yourself through the court system alone.
To get more information about the various divorce processes, and determine which one is best for you, go to KarenCovy.com.