The most familiar process is traditional litigation where each spouse selects their own attorney who conducts most of the communications on each spouse's behalf. The couple can negotiate the terms of a settlement for review and approval by a judge.
Otherwise, in high-conflict divorce, the case goes to trial before a judge who makes the final decisions. This offers spouses the least control over the outcome and there is a higher likelihood of legal issues arising after the decree is issued. These proceedings are also public.
Mediation is a second option that allows the spouses to work with each other to determine the best outcome of issues such as spousal support. They usually participate in five to ten voluntary meetings before a neutral mediator. Sometimes, there may be one or two full-day sessions. This process is effective where the divorce is contentious or where the parties are anxious to work out a settlement.
Each spouse should be represented by their own attorney who provides advice and represents them in mediation sessions. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the sessions remain confidential and the matter proceeds to traditional litigation. A judge must approve any agreement approved by the parties.
Mediation's advantages include privacy, lower likelihood of legal issues after the divorce is finalized and possibly lower expense. Most importantly, the spouses have better control over the outcome.
The third option is collaborative divorce, where each spouse hires an attorney and seeks the assistance of a team of experts such as child specialists, divorce coaches and financial specialists to help formulate a creative resolution. Unlike mediation, sessions are not led by a mediator. The attorneys must also withdraw from the case if a resolution is not reached and the case proceeds through traditional litigation.
A judge must approve a settlement reached through this process. Collaborative divorce also lowers cost, consumes less time, lowers the possibility of post-divorce legal issues and reduces conflict.
An attorney can help spouses consider and participate in these options.