There are basically 5 methods available for deciding the issues in a divorce or parenting (formerly called custody) case. The first decision you need to make is which method you will use. If you can resolve your issues through informal negotiation or mediation, your costs will be lower. Court is the most expensive method and takes the most time. Here is a quick overview of the 5 methods:
A. Informal Negotiation - You and your spouse (or other parent) reach agreement through informal discussions, without any professional present. Most spouses/parents are able to make at least some of the decisions. However, making decisions at this time is often difficult. Problems with communication are a common reason for a relationship breakdown. Additionally, the hurt and anger that are typical of divorce make discussion difficult.
B. Mediation - The two of you resolve your issues with the help of a trained mediator, who will help each of you express your needs while also listening to your partner's needs. The mediator does not make the decisions or give legal advice. Instead, a mediator helps people communicate and negotiate the disputed issues using "interest-based negotiation."
C. Collaborative Practice - Collaborative Practice means both parties and both lawyers commit in writing to resolving the case without going to court. They hold a series of meetings to work out the issues. Counselors and financial professionals are involved to help with emotions, communication, parenting, and financial issues. Read my Collaborative Practice FAQ for more information.
D. Negotiation Between Lawyers - Each of you hires a lawyer. All negotiations take place between the lawyers who represent each of you until an agreement is reached. There is no need for meetings with both parties present. One lawyer draws up a proposed agreement. The lawyer and client work together to revise and perfect the agreement. When they are both satisfied, it is sent over to the other side. The other person and lawyer then review the agreement and propose changes. There may be several rounds of negotiations with different draft agreements.
E. Court - If discussion, mediation, and negotiation do not settle all divorce issues between you and your spouse, the Master or judge makes the decisions, after a contested hearing. "Contested" means that one or more issues are not agreed on, and thus must be decided by the court. Many couples have a contested temporary hearing, but then agree on the final issues and settle the case.
What is the best method for you? If the other person will agree to either mediation or collaborative, that may be the best method. Both of these methods are generally effective. Some couples use a combination of 2 or more of the methods. For example, they decide parenting through discussion or mediation and property division by negotiation through their lawyers. For more information about decision-making choices, see my article on Decisions.
Family Mediation Basics
Divorce & Parenting Mediation
Adult Family Mediation
Premarital Agreement FAQ
Parenting Coordination FAQ
Honey Hastings, Mediator
P.O. Box 33
Temple, NH 03084
Tel: 603 654-5000