The traditional way to divorce your spouse is by litigating the matter in court. Though sometimes the only reasonable option, there are significant disadvantages to divorce litigation. It is costly and time-consuming, it limits your decision-making ability, and it can encourage discord and animosity between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
Fortunately, options are available for those who want a shorter, less expensive, less antagonistic process. Alternative dispute resolution options for your divorce include arbitration, mediation, and collaborative divorce.
In some ways, arbitration is similar to traditional divorce litigation. An impartial third party acts as an arbiter who makes a final judgment in regard to your divorce case. The arbiter’s final decision regarding custody, child support, alimony, property division, etc. is binding.
In this respect, arbitration is similar to a court trial. However, arbitration takes place in an informal setting outside the courtroom. Though an arbiter is similar to a judge, you and your spouse have your choice of arbiters. If you were to litigate your divorce, you would have to accept the judge assigned to you.
Mediation is similar to arbitration in that a neutral third party, called a mediator in this case, presides over the process. However, a mediator does not have the decision-making power that an arbiter has. The mediator’s role is to act as a facilitator to help you and your spouse communicate with one another and reach your own divorce agreement. The mediator may hold joint sessions with both you and your spouse and/or private one-on-one sessions with each of you.
Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation in that it involves you and your spouse negotiating the terms of your separation with one another. However, it is different from both mediation and arbitration in that there is no third party presiding over the process. Rather, you and your spouse meet with your attorneys and talk out your difficulties using a “team” approach.
The process can include professionals such as child counselors or accountants to give evidence and help you understand where you stand. However, these must be neutral and serve only an informational role, and you and your spouse must agree to each of them before they can be involved in the process. To show respect for and commitment to the process, you, your spouse, and your attorneys all agree that if the process fails and you end up litigating your divorce instead, you must retain new counsel and your existing attorneys cannot represent you in divorce court.