In some cases, spouses can work together to reach a settlement – avoiding trips to court and all the associated stress. When families begin to contemplate separation and divorce, their first thoughts often turn toward hiring a divorce lawyer. Which – while a practical step – fills many people with dread.
You may have heard the horror stories of couples being dragged through ugly custody battles, leaving in their wake scars, anger and bitterness. You may know couples who got caught up in contests over marital property, struggles that ended up costing almost as much as the value of the property itself.
Lawyers don’t, as a rule, create problems where none existed before. Which is one big reason why the adversarial form of divorce – that is, the “typical” kind of divorce we normally think of, involving opposing attorneys for each party – has become an industry that produces billions of dollars a year in legal fees.
Without practical, consumer-oriented laws, people involved in the emotional fallout of failing marriages can be easily exploited. If you decide to work with an attorney, make sure he or she is really looking out for your best interests, and not simply finding ways to drain away money that could be better spent on your children and family.
You don’t have to go to court
Many people still believe that going through family-law court is the only path to divorce – and the resolution of disputes ranging from child or spousal support and property division to custody and visitation. That belief, not surprisingly, adds to the fear and uncertainty that’s a normal byproduct of divorce, and can make settlement seem like an insurmountable hurdle.
But if you think you have to have a divorce lawyer, think again.
In fact, if you find yourself being pushed too quickly toward an adversarial process by your attorney, you should put your foot down and ask some questions. For starters: Does the attorney offer any other options besides going to court? What does he or she know about collaborative divorce law and mediation?
If the answers are “no,” and “nothing,” you’re probably in the wrong law office. That lawyer has only one thing to sell, no matter what the particulars of your case: an antagonistic, and likely expensive, trip to the courthouse.
In situations such as this, clients are channeled into the legal system, unaware that there are alternative options that resolve all of the legal issues, yet hold open a great promise of transformation and growth.
Can we all just get along?
The odds are that if you’re divorcing, you know next to nothing about what to do first. Should you choose a lawyer? How do you make sure the lawyer does what’s best for you and your family? Or can you forgo the services of a divorce lawyer altogether? Where can families who are contemplating separation and divorce go to learn more about their alternatives?
Dispute settlement centers can offer a wealth of information, and a non-threatening place to find some answers to those hard questions. Trained professionals will listen to your story, and help design an alternative dispute resolution method around your family’s unique situation – a method that may or may not include divorce lawyers.
In North Carolina, mediation is encouraged and made the first option by state law and most judges. Other alternatives include arbitration, a combination of mediation and arbitration, and collaborative law.
Mediation provides hope for both of the partners who are going through the painful process of divorce. It enables both you and your spouse to take control of the events in your lives. And it encourages self-determination and self-reliance, rather than fostering dependency on the “experts” most people turn to when faced with divorce-related choices.
Settle for the best decision-maker: yourself.
Mediation, quite simply, places the power to reach a settlement with you. It encourages a working relationship by opening the lines of communication through the use of a neutral third party. Beyond the specific facts and laws, underlying causes for disagreements you and your spouse are having may be discussed.
As the mediator helps you understand each of your ex’s interests – and vice versa – future disputes may be averted, or at least dealt with in a more constructive fashion. Involvement with the legal system is minimal, and costs may be greatly reduced.
All in all, dispute resolution professionals find that mediation can be an effective, inexpensive, relatively quick and emotionally less traumatic means of resolving separation and divorce issues. And it provides a way for couples to deal with the reality that, in many cases, putting the dream of a marriage to rest is harder than the divorce itself.