Keeping in mind that one in two marriages end in divorce, you should also know that this past holiday season possibly signified a vital turning point for you and your spouse to sustain another year of happy marriage. To this effect, Virginia family law attorney Kathryn Dickerson suggests that unhappy couples enduring a struggling relationship may be inclined to start divorce proceedings early in 2011 and “begin the New Year anew.”1

In dealing with your family conflict and life-adjusting divorce, it is imperative to first assess your divorce options. Subsequently, you should check with your state requirements to see if the litigation, mediation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce procedures are available to you.

Utilize the following insights to help you in understanding the ramifications of these different legal avenues:

Be knowledgeable of how financial and family decisions are made in the traditional litigation model.

  • Foremost, consult with a family law attorney and qualified financial professional to discuss and carefully evaluate your options early on in the divorce process. The traditional litigated process is adversarial by nature. Keep in mind as preparation for divorce that you and your spouse both need to propose an offer for settlement, which will delineate how your assets and debts will be divided, as well as include plans for spousal and child support.
  • Note that you and your spouse’s proposals are negotiated and resolved by attorneys on your behalf in traditional litigation. Should negotiation fail, your case is litigated before a judge, who will render a decision that purposefully does not afford either you or your spouse everything requested. With the traditional court system, your case will be public record.

Choose the alternative divorce mediation option to facilitate an informed and enduring agreement and to maintain a respectful relationship with your family post-divorce.

  • Formulate your own meaningful solutions to your particular circumstances by engaging the help of an experienced mediator, a neutral third-party professional who can communicate and identify the issues (i.e. asset division and child custody) integral to keeping a mutually satisfactory agreement. With the assistance of a nonpartisan attorney, mental health professional, forensic accountant or divorce financial planner, you and your spouse can actively participate in defining the potential choices for your changing financial goals and new aspirations of all family members.
  • Keeping in perspective that mediation is not binding on either party unless a signed agreement is reached, it may be to your benefit to attempt to mediate first and attain a private resolution without going to court. Consider mediation as a viable alternative to meet your family’s evolving needs, especially when you and your spouse have a mutual desire to resolve encompassing divorce issues, as expeditiously, constructively, and inexpensively, as possible. 
  • Can you utilize a mediator who can counsel you in making informed and cooperative decisions that are logical for you and your family? Recognize that you can benefit by working with a mediator in a confidential and non-adversarial forum to comfortably reveal emotions inherent in capably dealing with your finances and family matters. In addition, you can use an outside allied professional, such as a divorce coach or divorce financial planner, to play a supportive role in guiding you to solve your dispute.
  • You may also choose the arbitration alternative, which is a way to utilize neutral expertise before an arbitrator, who makes a binding decision on you and your spouse’s divorce issues. Note that the arbitration proceeding can be akin to a trial, although this process does not take place in a court room.

Educate yourself on the emerging collaborative law practice to decide if this viable alternative will facilitate effective and peaceful communication between you and your family.

  • Similar to mediation, collaborative divorce is a private and team approach for divorce resolution that can assist you and your spouse in working toward a mutually-created and family-focused settlement. Collaborative divorce promotes the best interests of the family by prioritizing holistic outcomes. Discover how the core facets of Collaborative Divorce can create even-keeled solutions for your family and empower you to amicably handle your conflict.
  • Manage your emotions and openly discuss your marriage dissolution with the multi-disciplinary team of specialty trained collaborative professionals. Along with your own family law attorneys and other neutral experts, you and your spouse will sign a participation agreement stating that all professionals must withdraw and new experts will be hired if the issues are not resolved and the case goes to litigation.
  • How can your financial planner advise you on divorce-related financial issues? With the guidance of a qualified financial professional, who is specially trained in divorce and knowledgeable of your state’s divorce laws, you will receive insights on long-term and post-separation budgets, and peruse property division scenarios and cash flow projections associated with your settlement. Also, you can make practical parenting time plans and minimize the possible adverse effects a divorce can have on your kids by working with neutral divorce coaches and therapists to encourage your family to maintain a healthy future relationship.

Handle your transition from marriage to divorce respectfully with the essential supportive financial and parenting framework. Prudently consider your options early on in the divorce resolution process to decide if litigation, mediation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce is the appropriate choice for you and your family’s unique and focused situation.

FPA member Elaine King, CFP®, CDFA™, is the Author of Family & Money Matters. FPA member Philip Herzberg, CFP®, MSF, is Director of Media Relations & Public Awareness for FPA of Miami-Dade.

1 Neil Augenstein’s December 29, 2010, feature, “New Year’s Resolution: Get Divorced.”


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