When I sit down with a client for the first time who is seeking a divorce, very few (exactly NONE) say to me, “Marybeth, I want this to be expensive, take forever, and be a generally horrible experience for all involved.” Instead, most clients hope their divorce can be like ripping off a bandaid – quick, easy, and with minimal pain. While we cannot always accomplish that goal, the way we start a case can have a dramatic effect on the cost, time frame and overall experience.
Before diving into divorce litigation, consider your alternatives to “regular” divorce litigation. If you have an ex who wants to make it a less painful process, you may find you can actually get in and out of the divorce process with minimal scar tissue.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Divorce
Divorce can be very complicated, both legally and financially. If not handled correctly, you can make mistakes that will have major consequences. Generally speaking, I discourage most people from trying to do their divorce completely on their own. It is well worth the few hundred dollars it may cost to at least sit down with an attorney to evaluate your case and see what your options could be.
However, there can be cases where a DIY divorce makes sense. For example, if your marriage was very short, you did not accumulate any property or debts during your marriage, and you don’t have any children you might be a good candidate. In other words, if the only thing you are trying to handle is ending the marriage, a DIY divorce might be a possibility - but do yourself a favor, just check in with a divorce lawyer to make sure. Remember, it's all in how you start the process.
In addition to being a family law attorney, I also offer my services as a mediator and settlement master, therefore I can speak to what this could look like in the right situation.
In divorce mediation, rather than the parties retaining attorneys to fight, a divorcing couple works with a singular, neutral mediator who helps both parties come to an agreement on all aspects of their divorce. The mediator may or may not be a lawyer (although I suggest you utilize a lawyer). The mediator MUST be a neutral party and cannot advocate on the behalf of one party or the other. They may, however, bring up issues you and your spouse hadn’t thought about - financial, property, custody arrangements, etc. - and suggest you and your partner work those issues out in mediation.
While you and your soon-to-be-ex are often represented by attorneys in mediation, that isn’t necessary. One of the most cost-effective ways to get a divorce is to hire a mediator right away and see if you can work through the process as amicably as possible.
Although not particularly popular in Montana, collaborative divorce can be a great idea. Basically a collaborative divorce is when a couple agrees to work out a divorce settlement without going to court. During a collaborative divorce, both parties retain their own attorney. Instead of simply advocating for your position, the attorneys will assists their client in negotiating a settlement agreement. The collaborative process may also involve other neutral professionals such as an accountant or financial planner, who will help the parties work out agreements on financial issues. You may also see a counselor or guardian ad litem involved to assist the parties in reaching agreements on parenting.
A collaborative divorce generally includes an agreement that the attorneys involved will only assist the clients during the collaborative process. In the event an agreement cannot be reached and limitation ensues, the attorneys may have to withdraw and the parties may have to start from scratch with new counsel.
If a divorce is particularly heated, the collaborative process might not be very successful. When financial issues are complex or there is a lack of disclosure, collaborative divorce may not be the thing for you.
In general, if there are concerns your spouse is hiding assets/income, if there are abuse concerns or a history of domestic violence, or if there are drug or alcohol issues, see an attorney before initiating one of the divorce litigation alternatives. If it seems like you and your soon-to-be-ex can work things out amicably, time and experience have shown that is (sadly) rarely the case.
Speak with an attorney to review your case before you sign any documents or make any final agreements. Measure Law specializes in divorce, custody, mediation, and appeals. Please give us a call for professional advice for your specific situation, 406-752-6374.