By Attorney Angela I. Green, Esq
Most people think there are only 2 ways to get a divorce: mediation or litigation. There are actually several divorce options in Connecticut. Here is a summary of some of the methods to ending a marriage.
Divorcing Pro Se
Pro se means “for oneself” in Latin. Spouses go through the process by themselves, without counsel, using court forms or internet forms to file the necessary paperwork with the court. Usually (and understandably) motivated by lack of funds to engage professionals, pro se divorce can be for very simple cases — short marriages where there are no (or few) assets and no children. In more involved or complex cases, it may be quite dangerous for the spouses to divorce pro se. Things can be missed – and drastically so. Power imbalances and unfairness can run rampant. It is somewhat analogous to taking out one’s own appendix. Some things you just shouldn’t do yourself.
A neutral mediator helps both spouses come to an agreement about the divorce. The divorce mediator helps the couple with the divorce process from the initial filing of legal documents with the court; and if an attorney-mediator, with the final court hearing and post-divorce process. Both parties should consult with their own attorney during the course of the mediation and, at least once, prior to signing the divorce agreement.
Pros: You and your spouse remain in control of your divorce and separation. You and your spouse co-write your divorce agreement. Least expensive way to divorce and the most common form of alternative dispute resolution. Cons: Not all couples can communicate, even with a mediator. May not work if financial or emotional or psychological abuse exists.
Collaborative divorce is ideal for complex dissolutions in medium- to long-term marriages. The parties meet face-to-face in a series of meetings with their own collaboratively-trained counsel/attorneys. The collaborative attorney is a family and divorce specialist who has mediation and collaboration training. Each collaborative divorce attorney advocates for their own client but remains open to the views and interests of the other side. If needed, a neutral process facilitator attends the meetings to make sure emotions don’t disrupt the process. Each party and their counsel signs a commitment agreement that says they will not litigate with these lawyers; if they decide to litigate, they must hire new attorneys. This keeps the threat of litigation out of the process. Even in complex divorces, the parties are usually able to resolve their case divorce faster and for less money.
Pros: You and your spouse remain in control. No trips to the court, all negotiations are private and occur in your attorney’s office. You have added protection and legal counsel at the table who provides ongoing advice, negotiation, counseling, and protection. Collaborative divorce is more expensive than mediation; however, it costs far less than litigation. Cons: Collaborative divorce may not work if financial, emotional or psychological abuse exists; however, you can use neutral financial or communication coaches in session to mediate such issues. If you do not reach an agreement you will have to hire new layers and experts to proceed to litigation and trial.
Litigation Ending with Settlement
Litigation occurs when there is a filing, many subsequent court hearings, and decisions are made by the court. There is formal discovery (depositions, production of documents, interrogatories) which is quite expensive. In a litigated divorce there is generally some negotiation by the parties through their attorneys. Sometimes the case is resolved at the “pre-trial conference” date if a separation agreement is signed at that time. If the case proceeds to trial, much additional legal expense results, but a high proportion of those cases end in settlement on the first day of trial. Litigation is a very expensive way to get a divorce. Unless you have lots of money to spend, try to use one of the methods previously described. Because you have “gone to war,” the contentious nature of litigation can ruin the relationship between you and your spouse forever and may negatively affect your children in their lives and in their marriages. Think carefully before deciding to litigate.
Pros: If your spouse is unfit or harmful to you or your children, your attorney will go to bat for you. Cons: You are in for an ugly battle. The results are never guaranteed. It is highly likely ill will result. This will make it hard or impossible to parent or co-parent after the divorce. Winning is a matter of degree. Some say that no one wins with divorce litigation. Very costly.
Litigation Ending with a Trial
Litigation ending in trial is the worst of all possible ways to divorce. this is like litigation, however with no settlement at the end. There is a trial and the judge decides all the issues of the divorce. An actual trial adds a huge expense on the divorce bill and creates a lifetime of bad memories. The parties are not in control over their own destiny but have put the decision in the hands of a judge whose decision you may or may not agree with. The judge may also take the middle road leaving neither party satisfied. Or the result can be “all or nothing” in favor of one spouse which will leave one party happy and the other party devastated.
Pros: If your spouse if unfit or harmful to you or your child(ren) this may be your only option. Your attorney will go to bat for you. Cons: Winning is a matter of degree. Some say that no one wins with divorce litigation. Very costly, so much so that in some situations it can be financially ruinous.
When you are embarking on a divorce, discuss the possible divorce methods with your attorney and choose the option that best fits your situation and will go towards achieving other goals in the divorce, such as maintaining peace and cordiality with your future ex-spouse.