Ways to Divorce
Divorce is a major event in your life that will predetermine much of your future. This is not the time to "cut corners". You need to decide how you will get through it as cost effectively as possible and still provide yourself with all the resources and protections you need.
The divorce process, and the professional assistance you need, is like a three legged stool. You need professional legal, financial, and emotional advice and support. If one of the legs is missing, just like on the stool, you will fall and get hurt.
The following summary of your alternatives, in order of expensiveness, should help you with your decision making. Your divorce team ought to include a financial professional who will work with your divorce attorney and complement their legal expertise with financial expertise.
If you are determined to fight this out, be "right", prove your spouse "wrong", get your day in court, or any other such confrontational approach, that option is available to you. However, realize that only about 5% of all cases ever get their day in court. It is in everyone's best interest to reach a settlement prior to that. How long you want to prolong the agony and drama, and at what expense, is completely up to you and your spouse. After extensive haggling, mediation is used, with each of your attorneys continuing to advise you, to hopefully reach a settlement.
If you prefer not to be confrontational, but your spouse does, and fits the above description, unfortunately, you will need to participate and endure this lengthy and costly process. There are also some very real circumstances when it is just not feasible for you and your spouse to sit at a table together and discuss issues. In the interest of your emotional health, physical safety, or overall well-being, it may be best to take the traditional litigation route and work it out through your attorneys. Do remember though that you have the choice and the power to hire a divorce attorney who will represent you as you wish to be represented.
It is possible to follow the traditional litigation process less acrimoniously and reach a settlement through negotiations facilitated by your attorneys, or to go to mediation as part of the process and come to an agreement, without ultimately going to trial.
Bottom line: Costly, recommended when necessary. The majority of my work as a divorce financial expert is with litigated cases, particularly high net worth, highly contested, and/or abusive situations. I can work well with your attorney, for your benefit, and frequently accompany clients and their attorneys to mediation. Or, if I have had no prior involvement in your case, I can serve as your financial mediator.
If you believe you can sit at a table with your spouse and "work this out", there is a way to do that, using the collaborative divorce process, with legal advice from your respective attorneys. You control the process and develop your own agreements with the advice of your attorney. Team meetings, with you, your spouse and each of your attorneys, as well as a financial neutral and mental health professional, allow you to move through issues efficiently, and relatively quickly. This compares favorably to the alternative of multiple lengthy letters and phone calls being exchanged by attorneys in the litigation process.
The attorneys you hire will have previously made a commitment to the collaborative process, received special training, and agree to a non-adversarial posture. The financial neutral will review the financial information, rather than two attorneys doing duplicate work, and provide reasonable assurances to each of you that all has been disclosed and is appropriately presented and understood. The mental health professional will help maintain a balanced emotional environment, assist with difficult issues, and see you each together and/or separately outside of full team meetings to assure your emotional well-being as best as possible.
As a Financial Neutral I am able to provide: guidance in tax issues; resolve financial questions regarding pensions, investment accounts, debts, and closely held businesses; and illustrate the long-term outcomes of proposed settlements. It is all done right there, at the table, together.
Bottom line: Cost efficient, highly recommended when feasible and when done with a full team of professionals. Proceeding through this process with less than a full team of professionals, which may seem like a possibility, is not recommended. The process is based upon a full team approach and anything less may be financially and/or emotionally damaging to you.
Mediation is often used as an alternative to each of the parties hiring an attorney. The mediator's job is to get you and your spouse to agree to something plausible. He or she cannot give you the legal advice you may need. They can provide limited legal information only to both of you, but no legal advice to either of you. The only professional who can give you legal advice is an attorney who represents you and your individual interests. Even if your mediator is an attorney, when hired as a mediator, they must provide only mediation services and cannot provide legal advice.
It is very possible that, without legal advice, you may agree to something that is not in your best interest. How do you know what is in your best interest? How do you know what the law optimally provides for you?
Bottom line: Low cost, not recommended. My services are not available to anyone using a mediator without representation because I firmly believe you need legal advice. Divorce requires a legal contract and that requires an attorney.
Please note: Mediation is often used successfully as part of the litigation process, where each of the parties has legal representation. See the section on Litigation above.
Use On-Line Forms and/or Represent Yourself
This is, by all measures, both the least expensive and least credible way out and the worse approach to take. Do you really believe that attorneys learned nothing in law school that you do not already know? Would you attempt to do surgery on yourself? Have you ever heard the phrase "An attorney who represents themself has a fool for a client"? How true. And they went to law school. You didn't. Even if you are good enough, or lucky enough, to get your papers in acceptable condition for the court to file, the possible repercussions are many and you may not end up with what you thought you had.
Bottom line: Cheapest, most unacceptable. My services are not available to anyone taking his route because I do not believe you are acting in your own best interest and I will not be a part of it. If, however, you have an attorney and only your spouse chooses to not be represented, I am available to work with you and your attorney.
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