I spend a lot of time educating my clients about the various processes available to them. There are always more options than they are aware of. Below is an outline of (only some!) of the options available for resolution:
Neither party has retained an attorney:
- Self Help. Utilize self help centers through the county court websites – come to an agreement and draft documents on your own.
- Mediation. Meet with a Mediator who is an expert in assisting you in having a conversation to resolve any remaining topics. Typically this option is less costly than retaining an attorney.
- Limited Scope Representation. Many attorneys offer “limited scope” services, including drafting the final agreement at an hourly rate or a flat fee. This is a cost-effective approach for individuals who have reached an agreement and want an attorney to make sure they have covered all necessary topics and include proper language.
One or both parties have an attorney:
- Agreement. The parties (or attorneys) can settle the case at any time, including before service of documents (initiating the legal proceeding), and their attorneys can draft an agreement (Marital Termination Agreement [MTA] or Stipulated Judgment and Decree).
- Mediation. A Mediator can help you reach an agreement, often in just one meeting – even before investing time and money to initiate the legal proceeding. As above, an attorney can then draft an MTA.
- Collaborative Law. Both participants can hire an attorney who practices Collaborative Law – making an agreement that those attorneys will not represent you if you decide to litigate the case. A great option for anyone who is interested in a method of resolution that discourages the type of conflict that litigation often causes – this model is more involved than mediation and the process includes more steps.
Other things to know:
- Acceptance of Service. Rather than formal “service” of the documents, which can add conflict, feel adversarial, and is not always private, the Petitioner’s attorney can mail the documents to the Responding party (or their attorney). The Responding party then signs an Admission of Service – a simple form stating that you received the documents.
- Should My Attorney Attend Mediation? It’s up to you. You can request that you meet with the mediator without attorneys present. Each client has their own needs regarding the presence of attorneys at mediation, in my view it is up to each client and what makes you most comfortable. In my role as an attorney, I tell clients that I can be available by phone during the mediation if they want to attend alone but would like to be able to ask me questions.
These are choices that impact the way your divorce will feel, how satisfied you are with the outcome, the cost, and more. There are many options, and no single route is right everyone. I encourage you to gather information and choose the process that is best fit for you.