An uncontested divorce is simple; the spouses agree how to separate their assets, how child custody will be arranged and what maintenance payments (child support or alimony) may be made, before they go to court. The two spouses then present a joint agreement to the court. As long as the agreement does not require the judge to do something the judge cannot or should not do, the court will follow the agreement. An uncontested divorce is definitely the cheapest route because it normally requires the least work from attorneys and the least amount of time in the courthouse. The obvious problem is that divorce tends to be an emotional event and there is often a lot of disagreement about how to divide property and how to divide custody of children.
If the spouses cannot agree how to divide everything, then they can pursue a contested divorce. A contested divorce is one that requires the court to decide how to divide property, arrange child custody, child support and alimony. Everything can be contested or the spouses can agree to some issues and leave others contested for the court to resolve. Contested divorces can be resolved by either a jury trial or a bench trial – decided by the judge alone. Either way, litigation is very expensive (it can easily run $20,000 for each spouse) so it is frequently the least desirable option from a financial perspective. Typically neither spouse walks away from the trial feeling like they got what they want. Sometimes one or both spouse will want to go to trial to have their day in court, but at $20,000 that is an expensive day. So there is a lot to consider in pursuing a judicial resolution to the dispute.
Spouses seeking divorce are not limited to either litigation or sitting at the dining room table hashing out who gets the furniture and which weekends dad can see the kids. (Sometimes divorce is preceded by domestic violence which makes it a bad idea for the two spouses to be alone in the same place together.) The spouses can submit to a mediation process, which is an informal negotiation process in which a neutral third party goes between the spouses to help them negotiate a fair agreement both sides can accept. (Think the beginning of the movie “Wedding Crashers” but more civil.) Mediation can be done with or without attorneys. Sometimes when divorces come to courts contested they will require mediation before setting a trial date. In addition to mediation, there is also a process called collaborative law that is gaining popularity for resolving divorce disputes. Collaborative law is similar to mediation except the spouses hire attorneys who do all the negotiation with the specific goal of reaching an agreement. There is also less formal negotiation between attorneys or between spouses.
If you are considering filing divorce or you have been served with divorce papers, contact my office to discuss your situation and what options may be best for your needs.