The breaking apart of a marriage is wrought with sadness, frustration, hurt, and anxiety. We know it must end and “get it over” but realize that divorce is a process. It deals with a series of decisions around emotion, finances, the home, the kids, and starting over. Understanding your divorce process options is a good first step.
However, deciding which process to use can be contentious. When my ex and I separated, I suggested that we have a divorce without lawyers. Our situation was not very complex. I thought she and I could work honestly together. We could create a fair and equitable agreement at very little expense through mediation. Two weeks later I was served divorce papers from her lawyer. I felt betrayed and was frustrated at the possibility of spending thousands of dollars.
My point is that deciding which process to use is a decision between two people. You cannot control the emotions and decision of the other person. Accept that you may be able to influence, but not decide which divorce process to use. So educate yourself and offer suggestions.
Divorce Process Choices
Two important factors in deciding how to get divorced are Relationship Maturity (trust, character, and emotional intelligence) and Situation Complexity (custody, earning capacity, and assets/debts). Depending upon these two variables, choosing the best divorce process will help minimize cost and decrease the duration.
There are four basic ways in which the divorce process can occur:
- Alone—Two parties agree between themselves
- Mediate—Two parties work with a neutral third party
- Pro Se—Represent yourself through the legal process
- Lawyers—Both parties hare a lawyer
As the table above illustrates, choosing:
- Alone is best for low complexity and medium to high maturity—there is little risk and both parties have good self management.
- Mediate is best for medium complexity and all levels of maturity—a neutral third party helps set structure for decision making, helps you think through issues and will also help diffuse trust issues with low relationship maturity.
- Lawyer is best for high complexity and any level of maturity—you have a lot at stake and a lawyer will provide expertise.
Pro Se is not ideal because the legal process follows specific protocol that needs to be navigated carefully. And despite your level of professionalism and intelligence, judges expect to see a lawyer. Last, many times you need a third person as an information filter to deflect unrealistic demands. This emotional buffer helps you make better decisions.
If you have questions about which process is a right fit for your situation, meet with a mediator and a lawyer separately for a consultation. Most will not charge a fee for a first meeting. But remember, choosing which process to use is a decision made by two people.