Years ago, divorces were all handled pretty much the same way. A divorce may have been contentious or amicable, but the legal procedures didn’t vary too much.
Now, there are choices. These choices allow for greater flexibility in choosing the amount of money spent, the amount of time spent, the emotional energy required, and the type/level of analysis of the assets and debts of the couple.
- Pre-Divorce Planning: The first way available is to do some work “pre-divorce”. Prior to even filing the case, some or all of the work of dividing assets and debts and agreeing on child-related issues can be accomplished. One way to do this is through pre-divorce mediation. The spouses can attend a mediation session with a family law mediator in which they work out the practicalities of the divorce. They can mediate about issues during the divorce (who is responsible for what and child support/visitation issues while it is pending), and can also work on deciding the ultimate terms of the split, reaching an agreement.
- Collaborative Divorce: Collaborative Divorce is fairly new. In this process, the parties agree that they will cooperate and share information and that the divorce will not be contested. The case is designated as collaborative and each party has an attorney. Meetings occur and information is shared. Other neutral professionals (financial planners, therapeutic counselors, realtors) may be part of the team. If the divorce becomes contested, all agreements are off and the parties must retain other lawyers. This process emphasizes cooperation and respect.
- Traditional Divorce/ Pre-trial settlement: A divorce may be filed in the traditional way, with or without an allegation of fault. Since mediation will normally be required by the judge in most Texas divorces, mediation occurs prior to hearings. The couple may settle the case and enter into a binding settlement agreement, which is entered as a court order and removes the need for trial before the judge. Some people are also able to reach an agreement on their own or with their attorneys’ help, without the mediation process. Settlement before the trial date removes the financial and emotional cost of a trial.
- Traditional Divorce with a Trial in Front of Judge or Jury: The traditional “day in court” still exists, for those who need it. We have all seen television, and seen the dramatic and emotional world of “Divorce Court” and other such shows. Unfortunately, a full-blown trial is often emotionally difficult, but there are times when it is absolutely necessary. In those cases, it is important to have a support group to count on, including an attorney you can trust and work closely with.