Are there ways to settle a divorce without going to court?

The best way to settle a divorce is by not going through a trial or having court Motions or court hearings to ask the judge to settle temporary issues.  A trial is very expensive and emotionally difficult.  In cases of a divorcing couple who cannot agree to which has legal or physical custody or what the parenting time schedule should be, rarely are they able to parent their children the same as before a divorce trial because each has to testify how he or she is a better parent.

A trial is also time consuming.  It can take up to a year if not longer before a case goes to trial.

There can be a better way to divorce and leave a judge out of having to decide who gets which debts or assets or who should have what sort of custody label and parenting time schedule.  Those methods are:

  1. The spouses take some time to talk between themselves about what debts and assets they have and how they want to divide them. They can also talk about what each wants for the children.  The spouses are not limited to a specific period of time to get these issues resolved.  They should try to see if they can make some decisions themselves so long as one or both of them feels physically and emotionally safe to do so.
  2. The parties can meet with a mediator to have that neutral third party help them resolve the issues in their situation. That person can help the parties focus on the unresolved issues and some possible ways to help them come to a resolution.  Each party is expected to each pay one-half of the mediator’s hourly fee for the mediation session.
  3. The parties can participate in an Early Neutral Evaluation (“ENE”). This is a process very similar to mediation, but the evaluator, who has experience in family law, provides his or her evaluation of what a judge may do if there is a trial.  The evaluator may be either a family law attorney, a social worker or a Guardian ad Litem.  The cost of an ENE depends on the county in which the divorce is going to take place.  An ENE evaluation is an effective tool in coming to an agreement in a divorce.

If a couple is able to resolve the issues in their divorce, paperwork must be drafted to finalize the divorce.  One or both of the spouses should consider meeting with a skilled family law attorney to help them put their agreement into an Order for a judge to sign.   The court needs these documents in order to finalize the divorce.  Sometimes issues are missed or not fully discussed which cause conflict and problems in the years to come.  Having that attorney to review the agreement can help those errors from becoming problems once the divorce is finalized.

Jessica Sterle

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