Those who are involved in, or about to be involved in, a Domestic Relations dispute, such as a custody, support, divorce or other related matter, have traditionally proceeded directly to litigation as their only option to resolve these matters. In litigation, the parties are involved in the courtroom option, necessitating multiple appearances in Court and what can be both very substantial legal bills and stress. Are there other options and, if so, what might they be?
My esteemed colleague Sharon O’Day, Esquire, a Family Mediator, Collaborative Attorney, Parenting Coordinator, Public Speaker and Divorce Coach in Sarasota, Florida published an interesting article on choices available to parties to such a dispute. As she puts it so well, she explains to potential clients that the divorce process is somewhat like a ladder. The rungs on the ladder relate to the formality involved in the process. These four rungs consist of:
- Work it Out: This first rung of the ladder is reserved for parties who communicate well, have a high degree of respect trust for each other and, as Ms. O’Day suggests, can sit around the kitchen table and work out the details of the dispute between them.
- Mediation: The next rung is Mediation. These people can also communicate well, but might have some level of conflict, emotion or other issues which prevents them from finalizing an agreement. They need the help of an independent and trained Mediator, chosen by both of them, who will meet with them and try to assist them in reaching their goal, i.e., an agreement regarding their custody, support, division of property or other related issues.
- Collaborative Law: This is the third rung on the ladder of conflict resolution. Here, the conflict, emotion or other issues, which block or hinder the process, are at a higher level. In this area, the parties each hires a specially trained Collaborative Attorney to represent them. Each spouse or partner has their own attorney, who is committed to collaborating with other specially trained attorney and professionals (financial, psychological, accounting, etc.) who also are involved to work towards resolution and peace. There is no threat of litigation. Here, everyone is working towards resolution with no courts.
- Litigation: This is the fourth and last rung. Under this four-step scenario, the parties simple cannot communicate, have a low level of trust, or don’t feel comfortable with the other methods. Here, Courts and Judges are the only option.
Keep your options open. Discuss this with your clients or colleagues, or for yourself, and think about which method might be best. I am trained and have substantial experience not only in the traditional litigation option, but also as a Mediator and as a Collaborative Lawyer. Please contact me with any further questions or comments.