When there are disputed issues in a divorce that the parties cannot resolve on their own or with the aid of their attorneys through traditional negotiation, typically those issues are decided in court by a judge. However, there are two alternatives to going to court in a divorce – mediation and Collaborative Law – which may be helpful in resolving disagreements.
Both mediation and Collaborative Law can result in a faster, less costly divorce process as compared to contested litigation, if the parties are truly committed to reaching an agreement. For those spouses, these are great alternatives to going to court in a divorce.
Now, if you are not truly interested in working out agreed-upon terms, but:
- You are more interested in trying to strong-arm your less-financially-informed spouse into a deal you think is good for you, or
- You are the spouse who is scared to death about going to court and will try anything to avoid it, or
- You are the spouse who doesn’t want to divorce and is only agreeing to sitting down and talking about settlement in hopes that your spouse will reconsider and reconcile,
…then I suggest you talk to a lawyer (and a therapist) about all the ways to resolve your case and what your goals are for your marriage and divorce. Some clients and some situations are not well suited for mediation and Collaborative Law. This is an important point I want to stress at the outset.
Mediation is a process in which a neutral third-party — a mediator — guides a couple through a resolution of any disputed issues and helps them reach their own agreement.
The mediator is not a judge (although sometimes retired judges do serve as mediators), and has no power to decide the outcome.
The outcome is decided by the parties, but the mediator helps facilitate their conversation which hopefully leads to an agreement.
The mediator is often an attorney (but does not have to be), and may or may not be certified in Virginia’s mediation process.
Each spouse may (but is not required to) bring his or her own attorney to the mediation sessions to help protect his or her individual interests during the mediation process, or may simply consult with their attorney between mediation sessions.
There is no requirement that the parties reach agreement at the end of the mediation. It is a completely voluntary process.
However, if the mediation is successful at resolving all of the couple’s disputed issues, it will result in a written settlement agreement, which can be used in an “uncontested” divorce.
If you haven’t hired a lawyer during the mediation process, you should have an attorney at least review the written agreement reached in mediation before you sign it.
Collaborative Law is another alternative to going to court in a divorce. It is similar to mediation, but there is no third-party mediator involved.
Instead, each spouse brings his or her own attorney, trained in the collaborative law process, to a series of meetings in which they work out the terms of their divorce together.
The spouses rely on the advice of their own attorneys, as well as other professionals or experts making up your “collaborative team,” in coming up with an agreed-upon divorce settlement.
Couples choosing to take part in a collaborative divorce process sign a Collaborative Participation Agreement that states if the collaborative process breaks down, the parties are prohibited from using their collaborative attorneys and any team members in any future court proceedings.
The collaborative attorneys are only retained for the collaborative process and therefore are entirely focused on settlement rather than litigation.
Virginia has recently passed the Uniform Collaborative Law Act — referred to as the “UCLA.” More on the UCLA, Collaborative Law, and local Richmond-area resources can be found here.
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Here's what it will look like at your initial consult:
- LISTEN: At your consultation, we will take time to listen to your situation.
- COLLABORATE. We'll collaborate on a plan and pricing agreement, so you always know what to expect and are never caught off guard.
- GUIDE. We guide you through the divorce process.