When you prepare to divorce, you and your estranged spouse have several options as to how to accomplish this.
Mediation – Mediation is by far the least expensive and most humane manner to end a marriage. In most states, mediators are either attorneys or mental health professionals trained in mediation. In fact, may states have “certified mediators” who have completed a specified program in mediation.
- In mediation, both parties may or may not have their own separate attorneys who just look over the agreement before it is signed. The work, however, is done by both parties and the mediator.
- Both parties bring all their assets, community and non-community to the mediator to work out a settlement. This typically takes up to five meetings. It is based on both spouses being honest and wanting to reach an agreement that is fair and without a court battle. Each mediator sets the number of meetings (typically five) that is should take to reach a resolution. If a resolution cannot be reached within that time period, the mediator sends the couple back to the family law system.
Courts – When you make the decision to go through the court system, most people hire attorneys (some represent themselves – “In Pro Per”) but it is always recommended in the court system to have an attorney. Family Law Courts are typically in the Superior Court System (or there may be another name depending on the state) of the County in which you live. The courts tend to be backed up and where mediation may take five sessions, reaching a resolution or “judgment” in family court can take from 1-5 years, depending on how cooperative the parties are, whether forensic accountants have to be called in, and the calendar of the court. Today with budget cuts, most states have less judges or commissioners (judicial officers that have all the same authorities as judges, but have not been named as a judge in that state). Due to budget cuts, there are less court dates available, which increases the time it takes to complete your divorce.
Settlements – It is possible that you and your spouse, usually with attorneys, can reach a settlement that can be agreed to (stipulated to) even though your case is in family court. This does happen, but it is typically after a long time in family court and immediately preceding trial (trial in family court does not include juries. The judge or commissioner makes the final decision). This is still an expensive and stressful way to end a marriage.
Private Judges – Private Judges are typically retired family law judges that can be hired by you or your attorney to attempt to expedite the process of divorce. They tend to be very skilled and can help to resolve issues quickly. They, like regular court judges, have the right to make final decisions in divorce cases. If you do not like the decision of the private judge, you can go back to Family Court, but it will take even more time and money and often the decision will be the same. Private Judges typically run about $2,000 to $5000 per day to be split by both parties, but your case will be resolved within one day.
In summary, divorce is a time consuming, expensive and emotionally draining process. You are pulling apart at least two lives (with children – much more). I urge you, as I urge people that I counsel, to practice forgiveness and use mediators when you can. Anger will just eat you up, and the best defense against being hurt is DOING WELL – not trying to punish your soon to be ex-spouse with a long and financially devastating divorce.