1st Decision: Lawyer or No Lawyer?
Hopefully, you will go see a lawyer and get advice, but you do have the option of representing yourself. While there are free or low-cost forms available to do your own divorce, you should carefully consider your decision. There are some circumstances where it is difficult to afford to hire an attorney, but I do recommend that you find a way to hire one unless yours is a very short marriage and you have no children and no significant property.
2nd Decision: You have a range of processes for handling divorces. How do you want to approach this?
- Kitchen table. At one end, there is negotiation around the kitchen table, a very informal way of coming to agreements. In some cases, that works out well — short marriages, no kids, few assets and a civil relationship between the parties. Hopefully, both parties know all the financial facts and understand them.
- Mediation. Another option is mediation, with or without attorneys. I have seen enough non-attorney agreements to believe that you really need to have an attorney present at the mediation or at least the advice of an attorney throughout the process. Otherwise, the result may be appealing but not workable.
- Litigation. This is the default approach where the parties file suit and go to court. They have temporary orders hearings and go through a formal Discovery process to request, receive and exchange information and documents.There are often multiple hearings and various pleadings generated. Eventually, if the case doesn’t settle by discussions between the attorneys, it will usually go to mediation. If that fails to settle the case, trial is the final step.
- Collaborative Law. Finally, there’s Collaborative Law where the parties each have attorneys and agree to not go to court. Instead, they conduct a series of meetings and work with a neutral therapist and neutral financial expert. The parties work cooperatively with the experts and their attorneys to gather any information needed and then work out agreements based on their specific needs. A lot of the preliminary work is done by the neutral experts which saves money and produces quality results.
How do you decide which process to try? Talk with an attorney and figure out what best meets your needs and abilities. Be aware that some attorneys don’t do Collaborative Law and they may try to steer you away from it. Make sure you are meeting with a Family Law attorney who actually handles Collaborative cases. You can ask how many Collaborative cases the attorney has handled and when the attorney has attended training for Collaborative Law.
While Collaborative may not work for everyone, if the attorney tries to talk you out of using it, go to a different attorney for a second opinion. You may decide to not use Collaborative Law, but you should at least get good information when you are deciding.
Keep in mind that there’s no single right answer on how to proceed. Do yourself a favor by researching processes and attorneys ahead of time, if you can. Think about how you want the divorce to end up, and then choose the best process to meet your objectives.