Is it Possible to Keep Divorce Out of the Courtroom?

One of the most popular perceptions about divorce is that it’s a painful and messy process. The very word ‘divorce’ often triggers these types of images in people’s minds, since so many divorces have gone that way throughout the years. We think of bitter financial disputes, child custody battles, all the other tough issues involved in the dissolution of a marriage. We think of skyrocketing legal fees, damaging public court records, and bitter feelings between divorcing individuals.

Obviously, these negative images can easily be overblown. Divorce isn’t always that painful, and it’s not always that messy. There are many cases, in fact, where divorce is fairly straightforward. For instance — if there are no children and very little money involved, and if the couple is parting ways in an amicable manner.

But it’s also fair to say that the negative connotations of divorce exist for good reason. There actually are a lot of cases in which divorce ends up to be an embattled, expensive process. Even if the divorce happens to be simple, it always has to go through the court — doesn’t it?

Not exactly. Different states have different legal frameworks around divorce, and many of them (such as New Jersey) have legal options for collaborative divorce, uncontested divorce, and divorce mediation. Each of these processes has its own distinct features, but they share a common focus: Resolving the issues involved in the divorce, especially child custody and financial issues, in the most mutually beneficial and cooperative way possible.

Another great outcome of these alternative divorce processes is that your details, statements and agreements don’t have to enter into the courtroom as a matter of public record. Because the processes of divorce mediation and collaborative divorce are built around detailed, private discussions to resolve issues (these discussions are often led by a divorce mediator and/or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, or CDFA), couples can move faster and more effectively toward an outcome that’s fair to everyone, without having to appear in court.

Documents will still have to be prepared and filed by attorneys in order for this kind of divorce to be legally processed in the court system; but if the process is successful and the appropriate documents are filed correctly, the couple will not have to actually appear in court. This is a huge benefit for many divorcing couples who would rather not have the public and often embarrassing experience of a contested divorce being heard and decided upon by a judge.

That’s the other important thing about collaborative divorce. The fact that the divorce does not need to be examined in court means that the divorcing couple has maintained mutual, cooperative control over every decision pertinent to their divorce — instead of leaving those decisions in the hands of a judge. This mutual control, whenever possible, is far better than a contentious courtroom divorce in which a judge makes final decisions about child custody, co-parenting, and important financial aspects of the divorce.

Getting a good result with collaborative divorce and divorce mediation is mostly a question of finding a mutual sense of cooperation. From there, it’s all about finding an experienced divorce mediator who is voiced in all aspects of divorce, and can guide you toward the best possible outcome.
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