When spouses or domestic partners get ready to file for divorce or legal separation, they may have different points of view on issues like property division, custody of the children, or support. But just because you may have these disagreements, it does not mean you have to go in front of a judge to resolve them.
Consider that a judge can never know about your relationship — as a couple and as a family — as well as you know yourselves. So it often makes sense to work out as many issues as you can out of court. In most cases, resolving your disputes outside of court saves time and money.
More importantly, it can help you avoid or minimize a lot of the negative emotional impact that contested divorce cases can have. Divorce or separation is a difficult emotional process. You and your family will surely feel the impact of the legal processes and the emotional issues. For help dealing with the emotional impact of divorce on you and your children and information to help you work out some of the issues around your children, visit Families Change, an online guide for families going through separation and divorce. It has 3 versions – one for parents, one for children, and one for teens and pre-teens.
There are a number of ways that you can approach your divorce or legal separation case to focus on resolving the issues in the case by agreement. With these approaches, you can get help trying to reach agreements when you cannot do it all yourselves without help.
One of these approaches is trying mediation. In mediation, an impartial person (the mediator) helps people reach an agreement they can both accept. The mediator helps people talk the issues through in a way that often makes it easier for the couple to settle the dispute themselves. Mediators do not make decisions. Agreements can only be reached if everyone agrees. The mediator will not force you to agree to anything.
Even if you do not think you will be able to agree to everything, mediation can help you resolve some issues, so that you can concentrate on the issues you have not resolved and have a judge make the decision on those. Also, by preparing for mediation, you will prepare yourself for trial in case you do not reach an agreement.
To find a mediator in your area, you can:
If you are a victim of domestic violence, make sure you are safe and feel comfortable with the mediation process. Learn how to protect yourself and find out more about resources for victims of domestic violence.
Collaborative divorce (also called “collaborative law”) is another approach to handling your divorce or legal separation.
In a collaborative divorce process, you and your spouse or domestic partner negotiate an agreement with professional help. You each hire specially trained collaborative lawyers who advise and assist you in negotiating the settlement agreement.
You meet separately with your own lawyer. The lawyers and both clients also meet together regularly. Sometimes you and your spouse or domestic partner can bring in other people, like child custody specialists or accountants, to help you settle your case without having to go in front of a judge in a contested case.
For a collaborative divorce, both spouses or domestic partners and their lawyers usually sign a contract that says they agree they will not go to court. If the parties cannot reach a settlement and end up having to go to court, the lawyers agree to withdraw from the case. If that happens, you will have to get a new lawyer or represent yourself.
There are many collaborative law resources on the Internet. Do an Internet search for “collaborative law in California” and you will find information and resources to find a lawyer that provides collaborative law representation. You can also call your local bar association and find out if there are any “collaborative law” groups in your county.