Four Kinds Of Divorce
Four Approaches to Divorce and
Other Family Law Issues
When most people think about law, they conjure up an image of two lawyers in a courtroom engaged in the verbal battle known as litigation. However, more than 90% of all legal matters, including divorce and family law cases, are settled outside of court.
The four general approaches to resolving family law issues are Mediation, Collaborative Law, Litigation, and Cooperative Law. Each approach is defined briefly below. Each approach can be used in divorces, child support issues, child custody or Parenting Plan issues, separations of couples that lived together but didn’t marry, or other family law issues that may arise between couples.
Which approach is right for you depends on your situation. Our family law attorneys will help you decide the best approach for you.
What is Mediation?
Mediation can be simple with just the two spouses or partners meeting with a mediator. Generally, the couple comes in together and explains their circumstances to a mediator. The family law mediator explains the court process and what legal issues can be resolved using mediation.
A mediator can prepare all forms you need to do your own divorce. They can also explain the law and range of outcomes you might encounter in court. Additionally, they can share some likely outcomes in court relating to child residential schedules and property divisions to help you make decisions about these issues.
We urge all mediation clients to consult with an outside attorney before they sign final papers. Sometimes individuals will consult with an outside attorney before they come to mediation or during the mediation process. But they do not bring the attorney to the mediation sessions. When two attorneys are involved, costs and tensions tend to escalate.
The absence of two attorneys makes mediation for divorce and other family matters the most affordable. In addition, with just one attorney, differences in opinion don’t escalate into long, drawn out battles that otherwise would drive up billable hours.
Mediation is good for couples who agree on many issues, who wish to be friends after their divorce, and who want to keep legal costs reasonable.
How Mediation Works
At Integrative Family Law, we meet with the couple, usually in two hour sessions, until all of the issues are resolved. We use outside professionals if we feel they are needed. These outside professionals include financial experts who can calculate alimony and living expenses, address the impact of various property divisions, and help resolve other financial issues. If your child has special needs beyond those we normally encounter as family law mediators, we may consult a child expert.
The mediator drafts all the paperwork needed for a divorce or other family matter which the couple then takes and presents to a judge for signature. There are no court hearings and no trial in mediation divorces.
Mediation with Two Attorneys
Sometimes couples want mediation but prefer to be represented by their own attorney. The sessions can be held together or with each person in a separate room. The attorneys usually define the issues they think need to be resolved.
Our family law mediator will work to resolve the issues the attorneys identify. The attorneys handle all of the court paperwork. The family law mediator might draft some documents, and this generally keeps the cost down.
In cases involving domestic violence, significant power imbalances between the couple, and in some other situations, we may advise against mediation without attorneys.
What is Collaborative Law?
Collaborative Law is a formal collaborative process involving attorneys who have attended special collaborative training; a special fee agreement between the client and his or her attorney; a signed agreement between the spouses and their attorneys (called a “Four Way Agreement”; and a series of meetings with at least those four people – the spouses and their attorneys – present.
When there are difficult issues to resolve, a spouse who is inexperienced and lacks knowledge about finances, or feelings are running high, collaborative law may be preferable to mediation. The collaborative process also often includes using financial experts and child specialists to help resolve particular financial or issues involving children.
In the Collaborative Law process, a Four Way Agreement is required. The parties agree that if they do not settle their case in the Collaborative Process then they have to fire their collaborative attorneys and hire new litigation attorneys. This can be very costly for couples who then have to hire and educate new attorneys.
How Collaborative Law Works
These professionals and the attorneys form what is called “the team.” The team supports the couple, helping them resolve issues fairly and amicably. The team works together until all issues are resolved and all paperwork is complete. Then the agreed final paperwork is submitted to the judge for signature without a trial.
Collaborative Law divorce can be expensive when there are two, four or more professionals involved in every meeting. Scheduling meetings with many participants can be challenging and can take longer than anticipated, making divorce much longer to accomplish.
Litigation in Family Law
Litigation is traditionally what most people think of when dealing with a divorce or any legal issue. In Litigation, both parties hire attorneys to represent each individually and handle all court paperwork and deadlines throughout the family law process.
In a litigated divorce, every aspect is handled through court hearings, starting with the initial court hearing where Temporary Orders are entered. There may be several more court hearings regarding finances, children, payment of attorney’s fees, hiring of experts in the area of finances and parenting of children and in a number of other areas.
In King County, Washington, family law cases must be mediated before trial. But this mediation comes at the end of the Divorce Timeline after much of the damage we wish to avoid has already taken place. To avoid damage to your relationship, we recommend family law mediation begin before or very soon after court papers are filed to start the divorce or legal separation process.
If your case does not settle with the mandated mediation, then you go to a trial before a judge. You and your spouse or partner will testify. Other witnesses, such as family members and friends, can be called to testify, which often creates conflict and damage to your relationships.
Even though litigation has serious drawbacks sometimes litigation is what is required. If one person doesn’t want to go to mediation and doesn’t want to engage a Collaborative Law attorney then the other person has no choice but to engage in litigation.
In relationships where there is a very high degree of conflict, it is difficult to avoid litigation. When mental health challenges and/or substance abuse problems are present, litigation is often the only solution.
Litigated Divorce: Costly, Most Damaging
A litigated divorce can be very costly, and it is the most damaging to your relationship with your spouse.
Family law attorneys often do not understand the impact their actions have on the other spouse or other partner because they never get a chance to talk to or know that person. Because of this, and because many attorneys are not trained to keep the conflict to a minimum, family law litigation can have devastating, life-long consequences to the people involved and their children.
The more conflict there is between the couple the more court hearings there are, the more money the couple spends. Sometimes attorneys do not get along with each other. When they don’t, their poor relationship results in their inability to come to agreements for their clients outside of court and the couple, in essence, pays for the fact that the attorneys can’t work well together
Conflict between the attorneys often spills over to the couple, and the couple’s relationship can deteriorate to the point where they can’t even speak to each other. This is very unfortunate when there are children involved. For these reasons, Brooks Law Center does Divorce Differently.
Cooperative law is not a formal process like Collaborative Law but it is an attempt to achieve the same amicable result as Collaborative Law, without the drawbacks of increased conflict and costs associated with having many experts involved.
Cooperative law happens when you work with attorneys who are motivated to help cooperatively and work to keep conflict levels at a minimum.
All of the attorneys at our firm seek to establish cooperative relationships with other attorneys.
To maintain cooperation in cases, we:
- Establish a good working relationship with the other attorney
- Try to agree on joint experts
- Seek early mediation
- Attempt to resolve issues by talking to the other attorney without going to court
- Work with our clients to keep the conflict at a minimum
- Give our clients a solid “reality check” which is a realistic idea of what outcomes they might expect even if that is different from what the client is telling us
- Refer clients for mental health support when emotions are high and are interfering with the client’s ability to make sound decisions,
- The main drawback to cooperative law is that there is no formal training required. If the other attorney is not trained or motivated to be cooperative, it can be difficult to manage the conflict in the litigation.
- In the end, which approach is right for you really depends on your situation. Our family law attorneys can help you decide which the best approach for you.