Divorce doesn’t have to be a contentious, expensive battle. Knowing your options so you can select the method that best suits your situation, your family, and your budget can save you from many headaches. Here’s why the process you pick drives everything during, and in many ways after your divorce.
Couples often don’t know they have choices outside of engaging a lawyer, taking sides, and going to court. Learning about your options and considering how those choices match your situation can save you A LOT of time and money.
There are four main styles of divorce, listed from the least expensive and most cooperative to most expensive and adversarial:
- Kitchen table (Pro Se or DIY), where you are allowed to represent yourself but are expected by the court to have the same knowledge as a lawyer. While the advantage is that there are no attorney fees, the benefits of representing yourself probably don’t outweigh the risks, so make sure you can actually do it.
- Mediation, where the couple will be making their own decisions, but having someone to help them if they get stuck. It’s important to realize that mediation is a structured, consensual process. The mediator is not to advise or direct you on what to decide. They are there to help you come to your own decisions.
- Collaborative Divorce Process, where couples negotiate all the terms of a divorce based on goals they establish at the beginning of their process and that aim at less emotional and financial damage. All of the decisions are made by the couple outside of the courtroom with the guidance of attorneys (but the conversations are between the divorcing couple, not their legal counsel).
- Divorce Litigation, where couples rely on attorneys and the legal system to negotiate their agreement, usually based on what the law in their jurisdiction will allow. The steps to it can vary greatly depending on the attorney you hire, the attorney who is representing your spouse, the jurisdiction you live in and how the courts are structured.
One style might be better suited to your family and situation than the others. Knowing what kind of divorce you’d like to pursue is the first step and will drive the rest of your decisions, like what professionals you need on your team (which will talk about in an upcoming blog post).
You have the right and the power to choose
Let’s take Lisa (the couple’s names have been changed) as an example of why this decision matters. Lisa found out her husband had lost all their savings through bad investments, he even signed away their home by remortgaging it without her knowledge. She had signed the papers but didn’t look into what she was signing. Bill had always taken care of the finances and she trusted him to do that. She was busy taking care of the family and running the house. She found out just how bad their financial state was when things were so dire there was no redeeming their financial situation, or their marriage. They weren’t angry at this point. They were both very, very sad, frustrated and her husband was extremely ashamed and contrite at his actions. He promised he’d take care of it.
Knowing they were going to divorce; Lisa hired an attorney. This is where things took a turn for the worse. You see, they could have gotten out from under the enormous debt her husband Bill had incurred if they filed for bankruptcy, but he wasn’t willing to do that. He thought it would stop him from rebuilding his business in the future. He did, however, volunteer to take on all the debt he caused. This didn’t mean that Lisa would walk away from their long-term marriage with any savings, assets or support, but she wouldn’t be responsible for over half a million dollars that was considered her marital portion.
Instead of listening to their situation and helping them come to a quick and inexpensive agreement, the attorney Lisa hired advised her that if she didn’t take a very aggressive stance toward Bill, Lisa would have to pay fifty percent of the debt unless. Since Lisa had “lawyered up,” Bill hired his own attorney who advised him he could get out from under half of the debt by assigning it to Lisa as her marital obligation. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know about it or have anything to do with it.
This couple went quickly from a sad but respectful parting of ways to an all-out battle over who would pay the debt. Their process was no longer their own, the attorneys were driving all of the choices, timing and expense. Their attorney fees grew by tens of thousands of dollars and three years later, they were still not divorced or moving on with their lives. They were no longer speaking and their four children had taken sides. Their case no longer had much to do with them or the best interests of their family overall.
Most, if not all, of this could have been avoided if the original advice Lisa had gotten was to use a mediator and a legal document preparer to draw up their agreement for Bill to take on the debt. Or if Lisa had been empowered to take control of the situation; making her own decisions and using her lawyer as guidance instead of letting her run the process.
Don’t end up like Lisa and Bill. Honestly, they might have ended up fighting in court anyway. They will never know because they didn’t give a less expensive and aggressive process a chance. Now their family and their finances have even more healing to do if they can ever get past the trauma and expense the divorce caused.
Divorce can be chaotic and scary. Both of you will probably experience extreme emotions while ending your relationship. It’s not likely that you both walk away feeling like you received everything you wanted. The more open-minded and future-oriented you are, the more likely you will use a process that suits you and obtain an outcome that supports how you want to reshape your relationship.
Let’s figure out your next best step together
If you (or your spouse) have already decided you want a divorce and you need to figure out the next best step, I’ll be your coach and advisor through the beginning stages of the divorce process, so you’re equipped to build a plan and can make better decisions without the expectation of behaving like an emotionless robot.
Email me at Info@BridgingDivorceSolutions.com or call me at 844-306-0166.