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Divorce and Out-of-Court Proceedings: Alternative Dispute Resolution

The thought of you and your spouse going through a divorce is bad enough, without having to deal with a trial to decide who gets the furniture. As much as trials are glorified on television, most legal disputes never make it that far and are usually resolved by a settlement outside of court proceedings. Divorces are no different. Here is a quick primer on divorce and alternative dispute resolution.

Alternative Dispute Resolution and Divorce

Not all divorces have to go to court. A divorce can be resolved through informal negotiations between you and your spouse (usually with attorneys), by using of out-of-court alternative dispute resolution (ADR) proceedings that tend to facilitate a voluntary settlement, or in the traditional court setting. The vast majority of divorces are resolved before issues must go before a judge or jury, many through the use of ADR processes such as mediation, collaborative family law, and arbitration.

For instance, more and more couples are using mediation to divorce issues. And the popularity of mediation has shifted the role of divorce attorneys from representing their clients in a legal battle to acting as divorce mediation lawyers to help clients achieve mediation success. In this new role attorneys can serve as a lawyer coaches, legal consultants, and legal advisers in the divorce mediation process.

Is Alternative Dispute Resolution Right for You?

If you and your spouse decide to proceed with divorce, ADR is one option to resolving any ongoing disputes regarding property division, child custody, child support, etc. ADR may prove to be a beneficial tool in resolving your divorce and related issues, depending on factors such as 1) the degree to which you and your spouse are in dispute on key issues, and 2) your willingness to work together to resolve those issues.

ADR processes tend to be less adversarial and more casual than the traditional court setting, and may encourage and facilitate early settlement. With mediation and collaborative family law, you and your spouse (along with your attorneys) have an opportunity to play an active role in resolving key decisions related to the divorce, instead of having a third party (judge or jury) make those decisions. Rarely used in divorce cases, arbitration is a more structured ADR option, in which a neutral third-party makes decisions after hearing both spouses' evidence and arguments. The arbitrator's decision in a divorce case is not necessarily final, and the parties may still be able to resolve key issues before a court at a later date.  Most out-of-court divorce settlements will require some level of court approval.

Some states currently require divorcing couples to attempt some form of ADR before proceeding in family court, so it is a good idea to understand your options. You can learn about out-of-court alternatives for resolving a divorce and find help with your divorce.

More Information

Going through a divorce, either inside or outside of court, can be an emotionally and legally difficult process. You can get help with your divorce case by talking to an experienced divorce attorney. You can also find more general information on this topic in FindLaw’s divorce section.

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