For one reason or another, marriages do end. But court costs are high, the setting is a contentious one, and the unpleasantness of it all is the last way that anyone wants to end even an unhappy marriage. Fortunately, there are alternatives to going to court for divorce that can lead to more positive outcomes and less stress as two spouses go their separate ways.
In the most amicable of instances, a couple need not go to court nor even hire legal representation. Couples can file for a no-fault uncontested divorce themselves by obtaining and completing the requisite paperwork. But just as all marriages must be sanctioned by the government, the dissolutions of marriages must be sanctioned by the government as well, and even a do-it-yourself divorce requires the approval of a family court judge. While this process is simple and cost-effective, negotiating a divorce without legal expertise can prove costly in the long run.
Mediation is another alternative to court that many divorcing couples seek. In mediation, both spouses will sit down with a mediator, who will act as a neutral third party, like a referee. A mediator does not make legally binding decisions, but rather helps the two parties come to agreements regarding the issues in their divorce. By opting for mediation, the two spouses control the process rather than a judge. However, mediation is not for every situation, and cases involving domestic violence or emotional abuse are not ideal scenarios for mediation—the two spouses cannot be reasonably expected to sit down and calmly negotiate.
Similar to mediation but allowing greater representation of the two parties is collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce, unlike mediation, an attorney represents each spouse in an amicable and respectful process that tries to ensure a positive outcome for both parties. By keeping proceedings out of a courtroom, a collaborative divorce can save on legal fees. However, just like mediation, there can be no collaborative divorce without collaboration—in a situation where both spouses cannot work together to achieve satisfying outcomes, this approach will not be an option.
Of the alternatives to going to court for divorce, the closest to an actual trial is through pursuing litigation. Litigation is the most common route for unilateral divorces—that is, in cases where only one party wishes to end the marriage. Through litigation, attorneys for both sides hope to reach a settlement without the case going to trial. When the emotional valence of the divorce is so intense as to preclude rational and pragmatic involvement from the parties themselves, their legal representation can work to determine an outcome. We hope that one of these alternatives will work for you.
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