Divorce Process Options: Which is the Right Option for you and your Family?
Deciding to divorce is not easy and for most can feel scary and overwhelming. Making decisions around things like finances and children with a spouse that you are not getting along with can feel impossible. And the reality is that there are a lot of things to think about and many decisions to make when you divorce. One of the most important decisions that you can make is the process you engage in to get divorced. How you divorce has a significant impact not only on the divorce process but also on your children and on the relationship you have with your child’s parent moving forward.
Many people don’t realize that there are a number of different process options when it comes to divorce that differ in a number of factors including, how communication happens, cost, the use of outside professionals, and the amount of control you have in the process. Below is a list of common process that you might consider as you begin the process of divorce.
Kitchen Table: This process option is exactly what it sounds like. It involves you and your spouse sitting down and hashing out issues around children and finances and coming to an agreement without the support of outside professionals. As you can imagine, this process allows for the most control in decision making and is the least expensive option. While this would be an ideal scenario, it requires a unique pair to be able to sit down and come to agreement on all issues and therefore, doesn’t happen often.
Mediation: This process option involves negotiation between spouses with the assistance of a trained neutral third party. This person, often an attorney or mental health professional, facilitates the divorce process and helps the parties come to agreement on each issue. The mediator may provide helpful resources and information but will not provide legal advice to either party. As a result, a mediator will often encourage both parties to have the agreement reviewed by their respective attorneys. Alternatively, each spouse may wish to have their counsel present during mediation sessions. Depending on the spouses’ ability to communicate, mediation can occur with both spouses present with the mediator or with the mediator going back and forth between spouses in separate spaces. Similar to Kitchen Table, this process allows for you and your spouse to control the process with limited involvement of outside professionals.
Settlement negotiation: This process involves one or both spouses utilizing an attorney to assist them in negotiations. Most of the conversations take place between attorneys and then between attorneys and each client. There is no commitment to stay out of court.
Collaborative: This process option is an out-of-court process with a team approach. Each participant has their own collaboratively trained attorney and a team of other professionals which may include one or two mental health coaches, a financial neutral, and a child specialist. These professionals help the spouses to identify issues to address, gather and share relevant information about the children and finances so that both parties can make informed decisions, brainstorm options, and evaluate those options. Most process options only address the legal and financial aspects of divorce but fail to account for or support the very real, very impactful emotional process of divorce. Collaborative not only helps clients make decisions, it also helps them learn how to communicate and make decisions so that they can continue to co-parent in the years to come. This process is very client centered and gives clients the most control over the decision-making process with the commitment to resolve all issues out of court. It may be costly up front, but the costs tend to diminish over the course of the process and tend to be far less expensive in the long run as parents typically do not to need to return to the process to make decisions as their children age.
Litigation: For some clients, going to court is the right option. Litigation involves each spouse presenting their case in court and letting a judge decide on issues around children and finances. Litigation gives clients the least control over the process and can be quite costly and lengthy. It also means that parents will need to return to court as their children grow and changes need to be made to the parenting plan.
With so many options, how do you decide which is right for you? Below are some questions which can help guide you in deciding.
- How well do you are your spouse communicate?
- What is the level of conflict?
- How good of an understanding do you both have about relevant issues like finances and children?
- Can you rely on your partner to be transparent?
- How important is the quality of the relationship going forward?
- Which process will allow you to move forward in your life after the conflict in the most positive and productive way as an individual and a family?
- What is your financial situation and how much can you invest in the process?
There are a number of professionals that can assist you in making the best choice for you and your family. If you are contemplating divorce, you can reach out to an attorney or therapist who can support you in understanding your options and how your situation may lend itself to one or more process options. DC Academy of Collaborative Professionals also has a great resource called Third Thursday where every third Thursday of the month two collaboratively trained professionals provide general information about divorce and things to consider if you are starting down that path. It is free and incredibly informative.
Divorce is hard, but you are not alone. There are resources and professionals out there to help and no matter what, you will be OK.