Here is a question that I recently received:
“Hey Cari, What do people often do “wrong” when they’re about to file for divorce or in the midst of a divorce?”
People going through divorce sometimes believe that going to court immediately is the way to resolve things. To the contrary, mediation or the collaborative divorce process would be the better route. Oftentimes, mediation is confused with arbitration. With arbitration, the arbitrator acts like a judge making a decision for the parties. In most states, this is only allowed for economic issues in a divorce (i.e., not child custody and visitation). On the other hand, the mediator acts like a neutral third party helping facilitate a conversation so the parties can reach their own agreement. Mediation can occur with or without lawyers and topics which can be mediated are child support, spousal maintenance, child custody and visitation, equitable distribution of property, pet ownership, family business division.
A collaborative divorce is when the parties agree that they won’t go to court and the parties commit to an honest and open exchange of information and documents. This process is conducted by attorneys trained in collaborative divorce where each party retains his or her own attorney. The attorneys and parties then meet face to face to discuss options for settling issues while taking into account the highest interests and goals of both parties and the children. Each meeting in a collaborative divorce is very structured and will have a specific agenda for each meeting to keep discussions focused. Other experts may also be involved in the process, such as financial advisors, divorce coach, or a psychotherapist.
If the parties are still at an impasse after trying mediation or collaborative divorce, then they should consider neutral evaluation (or sometimes referred to as early neutral evaluation). This is a newer form of alternative dispute resolution where an experienced matrimonial attorney will hear the facts and give an opinion on what they think a judge will do. This is a cost-effective way to get a neutral third party decision without incurring mounting litigation expenses.