Updated: May 1, 2022
When you are considering a divorce, it can often be overwhelming to determine what steps to take and what process options are available. Some of the most common questions I receive are:
1. What are the steps of a divorce?
2. Can my spouse or I do it on our own, without us both being involved?
3. How do I do this?
There are four main options for completing your divorce process:
Litigation (Going to Court)
The most commonly recognized way of going through a divorce is litigation, or hiring attorneys to go through the court process, While it may be the most commonly recognized, it is not always the most beneficial in regards to timeline or cost. Litigation is an adversarial process where each party (husband and wife) hire an attorney to reach agreements either via settlement through their attorneys or before a judge who makes the final decisions for you. A litigated divorce typically can take anywhere between 8 months to over a year, depending on how many issues you need to discuss, how much conflict you and your spouse have, and how busy the court in your area is. The cost of a litigated divorce can be up to around $25,000 per person, although it may be less or much more depending on your attorney and the length of your divorce.
Mediation is a process by which a third party neutral, or mediator, helps you and your spouse reach agreements on all issues outside of court. The goal of mediation is to reach mutually agreeable solutions without a judge making decisions for you. Once all agreements are reached, the mediator will either draft the final agreements and file them with the court, or will send you to a professional who will complete the documentation for you. Mediation typically takes a much shorter time, as most mediators will meet with you for only a few sessions before all agreements are reached. This means your process could take as little as a few months. The cost is also often lower, as you are paying a joint fee with your spouse, either hourly or a flat fee. This is in comparison to the retainer and fees you each pay to an individual attorney in litigation.
Collaborative law is a process in which you have a team of professionals helping you through your divorce. This team typically includes two attorneys, a mediator, mental health professional, and financial neutral or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. Much like mediation, a collaborative team works to help you reach agreements outside of court in a collaborative rather than adversarial format. You and your spouse sign a contract binding one another to the process and disqualifying your attorneys from representing either of you in any future family-related litigation process.
Do It On Your Own
While the court offers paperwork that can be filled out by you and your spouse without a professional, this option can result in unfair agreements and incorrectly filed documentation. A quick rule of thumb is if you have children or assets and debts, don't do your divorce on your own. But, why not?
First, a parenting plan should be very thorough and personalized to your family's needs. The court documents typically only allow for standard, cookie-cutter agreements that are unlikely to fit the needs of your family.
Second, many financial agreements, such as the division of retirement accounts, cannot typically be handled with template court documents. Finances have very specific laws dictating their division, as well as differing tax implications. It's important to have an expert who can help you divide them properly.
If you are considering a divorce, a great option is to schedule consultations with professionals in your area to determine what process will be best for you. Many professionals will offer free or very low fee consultations, so you have the opportunity to learn about the process they provide and if they are the right fit for you. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Divorce professionals are here to help you every step of the way.