Traditionally, when people think of divorce, they tend to imagine two lawyers battling it out in court while their estranged clients and their children look on from the bench. While litigation is a popular option, it’s far from the only one, and may very well be the wrong way to go for your relationship. Here are some of the most common methods of processing divorces, their strengths and limitations:
Option #1 – Self-representation
The first option is for you to self-represent, which means you do not hire the services of an attorney during the divorce process and you just fill out all the relevant legal paperwork yourself. Removing the legal representation can save you a large amount of money, but it will require you to have extensive knowledge of the law and be on call for court appearances during the process.
This is not recommended for most people considering the number of rules, laws, and filing procedures that are required for the divorce paperwork to be accepted by the court. This usually requires specialist knowledge. One of the few occasions where self-representation may be appropriate is in straightforward cases, I.E., when you’ve been married for less than nine months, the relationship has not produced children, both partners have similar income levels, and there are few assets or debts to parcel out.
Option #2 – Use a paralegal
A paralegal can help you properly fill out the necessary court documents required to process your marriage’s dissolution. These documents can be fairly intimidating, so having a specialist on your side to make sure all your t’s are crossed and I’s dotted can help expedite the process and allow you to proceed with confidence.
That being said, paralegals are NOT attorneys and cannot provide legal advice during your divorce nor can they represent you in court. This means that the couple MUST agree on all of the settlement terms beforehand and be ready to appear in court once the divorce paperwork has been accepted (if required).
Option #3 – Mediation
The third option, mediation, involves the couple jointly retaining a neutral third party to act as a mediator who will neutrally and equally represent the interests of BOTH parties. If you hire an attorney-mediator, they can provide you with legal advice and file all of the necessary paperwork for you, which means that court appearances will not be required. The entire process can take place in the privacy of the mediator’s legal offices! They will also be able to explain what the law states and unique options that may be available to you that would not otherwise be available if you were litigating.
A major benefit of mediation is the uniquely collaborative nature of the mediation process. This is the only way for the parties to have control over their settlement terms, rather than having a judge dictate them. Self-representation and the use of a paralegal both depend on settlement terms being pre-agreed upon, so if a couple is unsure how to structure their settlement agreement, mediation provides an ideal method for helping the couple co-creating a customized plan altogether.
Option #4 – Litigation
The most commonly depicted and ‘traditional’ form of divorce is using litigation. Litigation involves each party retaining their own attorneys to represent them during the divorce process. Not only is this usually the most expensive option for divorce, it also creates a far more contentious and adversarial atmosphere, as each attorney is doing everything in their power to create a settlement that benefits their client, over their former partner.
To select the option that works best for your particular situation, you should first ask yourself some simple questions, like:
Have we already reached a full and complete agreement on all of our divorce settlement terms?
Are we going to need any legal advice at all to complete the negotiations?
How confident are we that we can correctly file all of the legal paperwork and make appearances in court?
Can you trust your partner to cooperate with you during the settlement negotiations?
How much are we willing or able to spend on the divorce process?
Even if you believe your divorce to be a straightforward and simple case, the complexity of the law can quickly lead to inexperienced couples becoming overwhelmed during the divorce process. To learn more about your options for processing your divorce, read our series on divorce and divorce mediation.