When a couple chooses to get a divorce, it can be one of the most difficult decisions to make. However, once this decision is made, spouses quickly learn that they must also decide how to proceed with their divorce. In many cases, they will want to work together to settle their differences rather than pursuing costly litigation in court. Two methods of alternative dispute resolution are mediation and collaborative law. So, which is best for a couple to choose?
During divorce mediation, a couple will work with a qualified mediator. The full mediation process is outlined in the Uniform Mediation Act, found in the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Over the course of several meetings, the mediator will help the couple come to an agreement about the outstanding issues in their divorce. The agreement will include many different terms, including a parenting plan, child support and alimony obligations, and decisions about the division of property and debts.
The mediator will remain neutral throughout the proceedings, and he or she will not make any decisions for the couple. Instead, the spouses will have full control over the decisions made, and the settlement will only be legally binding if both spouses agree on its terms. After an agreement has been reached, the mediator will draft any paperwork that is required. This will include a Memorandum of Understanding that will outline the terms agreed upon....
Divorce may be the best thing for a couple in the long-term, but in the short-term, it tends to release a stream of negative emotions, and bitter Court battles will likely increase the level of conflict. Divorce cases, particularly high-conflict ones, can greatly complicate settling outstanding issues, make it more difficult to move on emotionally and physically, and negatively impact a child’s relationship with one or both parents. While litigation is the traditional way to seek divorce, other options are available that are less confrontational and are designed to help couples find common ground, allowing them to resolve their disagreements privately and without Court intervention.
The newest divorce method endorsed by the Illinois legislature is the collaborative law process, and a law governing how it applies to divorce and family law cases went into effect at the beginning of 2018. This non-adversarial approach allows spouses to preserve a working relationship and implement better communication strategies that they can use going into future interactions after their divorce. The format and process of collaborative divorce is quite different than litigated divorce, and it can be a good option for couples seeking an alternative that promotes compromise when addressing how to resolve differences.
The Collaborative Process
Collaborative divorce is an alternative dispute resolution method that starts with both spouses and their attorneys signing a participation agreement in which they agree to make a good faith effort to settle their divorce without Court intervention and promise to freely share information. In addition, the parties must also recognize that if the collaborative process is terminated for any reason, their collaborative law attorneys will be disqualified from representing either client in future litigation....
Initiating the divorce process, once the decision to end a marriage has been made, can quickly overwhelm many people. Divorce is unavoidably emotional, and adding in the often-mysterious legal process to achieve an uncomfortable end can be daunting. The traditional image of a bitter and protracted trial to resolve disputed issues does not help alleviate this natural trepidation. Negotiating a private settlement is more naturally associated with divorces that have no or few issues to resolve. However, this much less contentious method of working through disagreements is also available for couples with complex matters to sort out, and may offer a better alternative in the long-run, compared with the restraints of letting a judge decide the outcome.
Former power couple Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin, who are likely to have a number of high-conflict issues, recently decided to take their divorce into private negotiations to avoid the spotlight of a public trial that serves as an example of the benefits of this process in hotly contested divorces. Consider the following information on how the negotiation process works, and important advantages this alternative has over litigation.
What Negotiation Looks Like...
Financially, divorce can be expensive. Hence, the cost can deter some spouses from pursuing the dissolution of marriage. Various costs associated with divorce are unavoidable, but generally, choosing a process other than litigation to accomplish the dissolution of the marriage can greatly reduce the overall financial outlay. Such financial considerations may be of high importance if there is significant concern over maintaining financial stability after divorce.
Mediation and collaborative divorce give spouses more control over what expenses are incurred, and more easily allow couples to share costs. These options also give the parties more control over the outcome. Further, if a divorce is uncontested, i.e., all relevant issues are settled, the costs are relatively minimal. However, the more traditional route to divorce through litigation is sometimes necessary if the parties want very different outcomes, or if concerns over misconduct/misrepresentation are present.
Since one spouse is typically at a financial disadvantage, the prospect of litigation can be daunting, and potentially push him or her to agree to a quick settlement to avoid high legal fees and Court costs....
Divorce does not have the best reputation for promoting civil and cooperative relationships between spouses. Traditional divorce actions pit the parties against each other in an adversarial process that does everything possible to limit — or completely cut off — direct contact. While this can make moving from the marriage easier, both emotionally and physically, the litigation model of standard divorce cases does not prepare the parties for working together over child custody, or allow them to have much a say in the terms of the divorce decree.
In recent years, the legal system has increasingly favored settling divorce cases in less contentious environments due to the practicalities of limited Court resources and also to facilitate a better outcome for the parties. This reduces the likelihood of needing to return to Court to settle additional issues.
A fairly new process in the alternative dispute resolution realm is collaborative divorce — mediation being the form with which most people are familiar— which was formalized into Illinois law this summer and will become effective January 1, 2018. Collaborative divorce is the least combative way to end a marriage, and in fact tries to give the parties a firm foundation for future interactions by teaching them more effective ways to communicate and cooperate....
Divorces are often contentious proceedings. Disputes regarding important issues such as property division, child custody and support payments can be exacerbated by the litigation process. Collaborative divorce, however, is an alternative to a traditional litigated divorce. In a collaborative divorce, the spouses do not go to Court to resolve issues. Instead, with the help of a lawyer trained in collaborative law, the spouses come to an agreement with each other about the terms of the divorce. Then they go to Court to finalize the dissolution.
In Illinois, no statutes govern the collaborative divorce process. In a collaborative divorce, each spouse retains his or her own lawyer. The spouses agree to work together in good faith to resolve the issues associated with their divorce and to honestly disclose all pertinent information. They meet together, with their lawyers, to discuss the issues and reach an agreement....