I continue to be surprised by the number of people I meet who have never heard about what I do – help divorcing clients using the Collaborative Divorce process. “What is that?” they ask. And I take the welcome opportunity to explain what it is. Just yesterday, the reply I got back was “That’s really great. Why doesn’t everyone divorce this way?” It’s a great question. In part, the answer is because they’ve never heard of it and the lawyer they hired never told them about it, most likely because their lawyer is not trained in the method. So, before you hire an attorney, know your options when it comes to divorce.
If you don’t choose something different, litigation is your default; that’s the law. Even if you don’t stand before a judge in a hearing, your divorce is driven by the rules of litigation – because that’s the legal system we are built on. Your lawyers are at odds with one another. They are adversaries, and so become you and your spouse – adversaries trying to win in a game that has no winner. Your lawyers follow the rules of litigation to exchange information. This may include sworn inventories; exchange of written interrogatories, requests for admissions, production of documents; and sometimes depositions. It is an antagonistic legal system designed long ago for contract issues, land disputes, and other civil differences. The law simply tries to cram the dissolution of a marriage between two people who once loved each other into this impersonal legal system. When it’s all said and done, the process tends to leave parents with an even worse relationship than they had before because one or both feel like they lost their legal battle.
Both spouses must choose to divorce using the Collaborative Divorce process. Once you do, your divorce becomes a confidential matter. Your attorneys and members of your uniquely chosen settlement team of jointly hired professionals work together with you in private conference rooms to reach an agreement in your divorce. Necessary financial information is shared and options for a parenting time schedule and child support are discussed in a non-confrontational setting. There is no money spent on interrogatories, admissions, depositions, hearings, or trials. The clients determine the speed of the process, which tends to be faster than a litigated case. And at the end of the process, the far majority of couples find they have a strong co-parenting relationship that benefits their children. Everyone is happier for it, parents and children alike.
Mediation is not an independent legal process. Mediation is something that occurs somewhere along the time line of a litigation process or part of a Collaborative Divorce. In litigation, it can occur early; but the drawback is that you may not have had enough time to gather all of the information you need to make informed decisions. If it occurs late in the process, it is usually a last ditch effort to avoid trial. With Collaborative Divorce, mediation is more rare than in litigation, but occurs when the clients have reached an impasse in their settlement discussions. Mediation can be an effective tool to reach agreement in divorce cases; however, there are drawbacks. One day of mediation often lasts anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. Not only is it expensive given that you are paying the mediator as well as the hourly rate of both of your attorneys, but it is also emotionally exhausting. And at the end of a long day of investment in mediation, clients often feel pressured to agree to a settlement they may not otherwise have agreed to in order to get the divorce behind them and not feel like they have wasted the time and money invested in the mediation.
Arbitration is a legal option that is not readily available to clients without significant assets. Essentially, it is litigation but with a privately paid judge. Rules for information exchange are set, depositions may occur, and a trial is ultimately held where the arbiter (the privately paid judge) acts as judge and jury to decide all of the contested issues in your case. There is no right to appeal those decisions if you are unhappy with the result.
When searching for a divorce attorney, make sure you find one who can talk to you about all of these options. You want someone who can tell you what the pros and cons of each process are so that you can make an informed decision. There is no one size fits all process that is right for everyone. Knowing the different options available to you before you interview attorneys to represent you is the first step to making the right decision for you.
Rhonda Cleaves is a divorce attorney in Plano, Texas. She represents clients throughout the DFW metroplex, including clients in Collin, Denton, Dallas, and Tarrant counties. To schedule a consultation with her, call Cleaves Family Law at (972) 403-0333.