The path to uncontested divorce in California, or anywhere else, is not always an easy one.
Let’s face it, the thought of divorce can be pretty upsetting, scary, sad and everything in between. So sometimes divorces start with a bang–intimidating court paperwork which is sometimes served on the other party (who may be unsuspecting) in a pretty abrupt way.
So how can this situation be saved? Is it possible to have an uncontested divorce California style? Or in any other state? What helps people make the transition from legal battle to a peaceful settlement?
Here’s an interesting statistic:
While over 95% of all divorce cases settle before trial, no matter how contested they start out to be, getting to an uncontested divorce can be a challenge. Some divorces start out peacefully, with everyone ready and willing to settle. Others, not so much.
(don’t let this be you!)
As painful as divorce is, we always encourage clients to hang in, and to participate with the process. The way we describe it is: The plane ride (of your divorce) is turbulent at the moment–it’s uncomfortable, and you’re nervous–but that doesn’t mean the plane is going to crash.
You’re getting divorced. Not everything is going to go perfectly, and it may take awhile to get resolved. As much as divorce is a “product” (the divorce decree and court papers), it’s a “process” too, as you dissolve the emotional part of your marriage and redefined your relationship with each other, and, if you have kids, your co-parenting relationship. You are, after all, still a family.
So what’s the best way to go about having an uncontested divorce in California, or in any of the 50 states?
You have some choices:
- Kitchen Table
- Collaborative Divorce
Kitchen Table: Some people can settle their divorce on their own using the divorce preparation worksheets and divorce mission statement. Out of 41,000 divorces in Los Angeles County every year, 70% of them don’t have attorneys involved. It can be done.
Mediation: When you mediate your divorce, you use a neutral person (usually a lawyer or therapist, or both) to help you figure out how to settle things. The mediator is there to give you suggestions, point you in the right direction, help you get organized, talk without fighting, and reach an agreement. Mediation is significantly less expensive than Collaborative Divorce or going to court. We’ve found over our 11 years of mediation practice that there are 2 things that dictate whether mediation is successful or not:
(1) Are you ready to reach an agreement? Or do you want to be ready?
(2) Do you want to reach an agreement? (or do you prefer to keep fighting?)
Collaborative Divorce: When you use Collaborative Divorce to resolve your case, you each have your own attorneys and therapist-coaches, but you promise not to go to court. You commit to working out the terms of your settlement out of court. It’s more expensive than mediation, since you both have attorneys representing you, but less stressful than going to court, so it’s a great way to resolve things in a confidential manner.
Litigation: As courts get more and more over-booked, and lawyers get to be more and more expensive, more couples are choosing either mediation or collaborative divorce to settle their family law cases. But litigation is always an option, of course. When you litigate, you go to court, with or without attorneys. The judge makes a decision for you (or you decide in the hallway while you wait for your case to be called). It’s stressful, time-consuming, and if you have attorneys, it’s expensive. Even if you don’t have an attorney, you could make an expensive mistake by not knowing all your rights.
Remember, just because the ride gets bumpy doesn’t mean you’re going to crash! You have choices. Ask for help from sensible family and friends to help you through this process, and consider contacting a therapist or support group. It’s possible to have an uncontested divorce in California, and anywhere else. It’s up to you.
Diana Mercer is an attorney-mediator and the co-author of Making Divorce Work and Your Divorce Advisor. She’s a divorce blogger for the Huffington Post.