Most divorces don’t go to trial. Over 90% resolve using some form of alternative dispute resolution. It is part of almost every case, and can be an effective way to save time, money, and frustration. Here are our family lawyers’ top 10 divorce dispute resolution tips.
Tip #1: Understand Why ADR Works
Many of Colorado’s divorce courts require couples to attempt alternative dispute resolution – usually mediation – before they will set the case for trial. Often, that’s a good thing. Family law, including divorce, is well suited to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) because the goal is a “fair and equitable” resolution. You know your family’s needs better than any lawyer or judge. Using ADR gives you more control over the process and the outcome. It also increases the chance that you and your spouse will follow the orders you created, helping you avoid going back to court for enforcement or modification after the fact.
Tip #2: Choose the Right Type of Dispute Resolution
Courts often order parties to participate in divorce mediation, but there are other types of dispute resolution available as well. Depending on your needs, financial resources, and circumstances, you may want to consider:
- Informal negotiations (between attorneys or parties)
- Formal negotiations involving written offers and counter-offers
- Settlement meetings (sometimes called “four-way meetings”) with parties and attorneys
- Mediation where parties and attorneys meet with a neutral facilitator
- Arbitration where a privately hired decision-maker has the final say
You may use one or most of these techniques in any given divorce case. (Sometimes you must choose between mediation and arbitration.) Your divorce attorney can help you decide which techniques will work best for you.
Tip #3: Know Your Top Priorities Before Divorce Mediation Starts
Divorce mediation is all about negotiations and compromise. That means you need to know what is most important to you before you start. Colorado divorce law allows parties to craft their own solutions to everything from child custody to property division. But if you come into negotiations believing everything is equally important, it will be hard to know where you can be flexible. Your divorce attorney can give you some divorce mediation tips about identifying your top priorities, so you will know what is most important to you before mediation begins.
Tip #4: Create a Worksheet with Assets and Debts
If you want mediation to be successful, you and your divorce lawyer will have some work to do going in. You’ll want a clear financial picture including all your assets and debts. You may need to have an appraisal or hire a business valuation expert to understand what your home or family business is worth. As you gather that information, you and your divorce lawyer can create a worksheet that lists all your assets and debts, and your proposed property division. This will make it easier for you to come to a fair and equitable settlement at the mediation table.
Tip #5: Build a Budget to Help Negotiate Child Support and Spousal Maintenance
While you are gathering information, it is a good idea to build a budget of your family’s household expenses. There is always some uncertainty about how much things will cost when parties separate. However, having a budget for things like rent, groceries, clothing, and extracurricular expenses, will help you know how much you need when it comes to negotiating child support and spousal maintenance (alimony).
Tip #6: Don’t Try to Win Your Divorce Mediation
Pop culture is full of stories about spouses who “took everything in the divorce.” That, together with the “me versus you” mentality of family court litigation, can make it feel like you need to fight to win. But that adversarial mentality can keep your case from settling during divorce mediation or other ADR processes, and that will add up to more attorney fees as you and your spouse fight over things that aren’t worth the cost.
Tip #7: Keep Calm, and Mediate On
Divorce can be very emotional. It is natural to feel sad, angry, and defensive as you work through the issues of your case. However, strong emotions during divorce mediation can keep you from looking at the proposed resolution objectively and clearly. Do your best to stay practical during divorce resolution discussions. Don’t attack your spouse or make accusations.
For example, if your spouse has a problem with alcohol and has had their license suspended because of it, it is appropriate to raise concerns over how they will drive the children to school, but not to call them a drunk.
Tip #8: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for a Break
Even with the best preparation, your emotions may get the better of you, or you may not know the answers to important questions (like the present value of a pension, for example). It is okay if your dispute resolution takes more than one session. You should not be afraid to ask for a break, whether that means five minutes to use the bathroom, or to schedule another session so you can get the answers to important questions. Generally, Colorado family court judges will give you the time you need as long as negotiations are going well. So if you need time, ask for it.
Tip #9: Always Sign or Record Any Agreements Before You Leave
That said, any time you get up from the negotiating table, there is a chance that things you thought were settled will resurface as issues. This might happen because someone:
- Thinks of a practical issue you didn’t discuss (i.e. realizing their new home isn’t on a school bus route)
- Discovers something has changed since your last session (i.e. finding out the 401(k) lost value over the past month)
- Does something that changes what is fair (i.e. takes out a new loan to buy a car)
- Listens to a third party about the way their divorce “should” go
That is why it is a good idea to memorialize any agreement before you leave a mediation or negotiation session. Many mediators will have the parties sign a mediation agreement or record a verbal agreement at the end of each session, to avoid any unnecessary back-sliding.
Tip #10: Choose a Divorce Lawyer Who Understands Alternative Dispute Resolution
Some people try to take on divorce dispute resolution on their own, without attorneys. Many mediators will meet with unrepresented parties, and this can be a less expensive option for families without the resources to hire their own lawyers. However, working with a divorce lawyer who understands your options and can provide you with dispute resolution tips and tricks increases your chances of coming to an agreement that the courts will honor and that will give you a workable solution now and in the future.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers are here to serve you and your family. We will help you choose the right ADR process, identify your priorities, and negotiate on your behalf to create a divorce settlement that will work for you and your family, without the cost of trial. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.