This article was originally published on Divorce and Your Money here.
Did you know there are 5 methods you can use to get divorced? You should know which process is best for your specific situation. The following article will provide a brief overview of each divorce method. I encourage you to deeply consider these options because traditional litigation is often not the best choice for everyone.
Before diving into the key types of divorce, you should understand the difference between uncontested and contested divorce.
In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree upon all the issues included in your divorce. Therefore, all you have to do is file the paperwork with the court. Then a judge will review it and sign off on it, and your divorce is complete.
In general, uncontested divorce is a cheaper, more efficient way to get divorced. However, for an uncontested divorce to proceed, you and your spouse have to agree on all the issues, such as dividing property, child and spousal support, and child custody. This type of divorce usually works well if you have few assets to divide and no children.
Contested divorce occurs when you and your spouse do not agree on all of the issues, so you decide to resolve them by using attorneys or a judge (or both). There are many types of contested divorce, so you have several tools at your disposal. The following list is a modified excerpt from my book, Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide:
Litigation is the most common process for people getting a divorce. It occurs when both parties want a divorce, but they generally do not agree on the key details. In litigation, each spouse has their own attorney represent their best interests. A settlement between the spouses generally occurs, but according to studies, a judge decides less than 10% of litigated cases.
- Litigation is the most common process, so most divorce and family law attorneys specialize in it.
- Some states have an appeals process if you are dissatisfied with the outcome.
- If you go to court, you can have a neutral judge, who strictly follows the procedures of the state.
- Litigation can span several years, so it is expensive.
- Litigation is usually the most contentious route for getting divorced, so it will be a fight.
- Hearings and documents filed with the court are usually accessible to the public, so you will lose your privacy.
In mediation, the divorcing couple works with a mediator who helps both parties come to an agreement about all aspects of the divorce, even if there are specific issues. The mediator is usually a retired judge, who assists the couple with decisions about what to do while remaining neutral. Mediation is a voluntary process that both spouses must agree to use.
If both parties are reasonable, you can quickly reach an agreement. Specifically, you do not have to wait for court dates and potential delays.
Mediation is cost-effective, compared with litigation and other processes. Only one mediator with some supporting staff is involved, but you can still hire attorneys to help with the process. Mediation is also generally less acrimonious than other processes.
- Mediation is private, as documents and discussions occur outside of court.
- Until a final settlement is signed, mediation is nonbinding, and both spouses must agree to use it. There is not much of a downside with utilizing mediation to settle a specific issue or negotiate an entire settlement.
If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement by mediation, you will have to restart this part of the divorce process. Therefore, you could waste money.
If one spouse is abusive or if emotional problems are involved, mediation may be an inappropriate method of resolving the divorce.
Arbitration is another method of settling a divorce outside court. In arbitration, the divorcing couple hires a private judge to make a binding decision about the issues in their divorce case. It is very similar to going to court, except that the process and the judge’s decisions are private.
In arbitration, both sides still hire attorneys who present evidence to the arbitrator. However, the arbitrator makes the final binding decisions.
Since it is usually held in a conference room at a lawyer’s office, arbitration is private.
The process is generally shorter than litigation, as most matters are resolved on the arbitration date.
- Arbitration requires hiring attorneys and a judge, which can be expensive. However, it is generally a more cost-effective process than litigation.
- There is no appeals process in arbitration unless there is fraud involved.
- To proceed with arbitration, both spouses have to agree to use this method to resolve their divorce, so it requires cooperation.
- Every state does not allow arbitration as a resolution to divorce, so it is not always an option.
Collaborative divorce is a relatively new area of family law. It is a method that involves both spouses working together to come to a more amicable, peaceful resolution to their divorce, rather than engaging in a process that involves a long, hard fight.
In fact, one of the key contentions of collaborative law is that litigation will not be part of the divorce process. Both spouses have a joint meeting with their attorneys (who generally specialize in collaborative law) to discuss their concerns, priorities, and issues without involving the court.
Furthermore, both spouses agree that they will commit to the legal process of collaborative divorce, and they fully disclose all information regarding their assets, financial accounts, and liabilities. Spouses and their attorneys also collaborate in making mutual decisions that satisfy the demands, needs, and interests of each party, their children, and their families.
- Collaborative divorce is usually more peaceful and takes less time.
- Given that collaboration is a less acrimonious process, it is usually one of the least expensive methods for divorce.
Both spouses have to agree to act civilly. If they cannot, a collaborative divorce simply will not work.
5) Do It Yourself
Divorcing couples can complete the process without hiring an attorney, which is called a do-it-yourself or pro-se divorce. The required documents are publicly accessible for each state to complete the process, and as a couple, you are responsible for completing and filling out the documents yourself.
It can make sense if there are few assets to split and no children. Otherwise, avoid it.
- There is no need for attorneys or experts. You only pay any relevant, state-mandated fees. In many cases, you can complete the process for just a few hundred dollars.
- You can easily make expensive mistakes regarding alimony, child support, child custody, your property settlement, hidden assets, taxes, and a variety of other potential issues. However, a strong divorce team would be able to help you settle these issues.
- You have to complete a lot of detailed paperwork on your own, so it is time-consuming.
- If abuse, substantial anger, or other problematic emotions are involved, an unfair settlement could result.