I Want a Divorce—What are My Options?

In 2019 alone, over 780,000 Americans filed for divorce. For many people, a divorce can be a much-needed fresh start, opening up access to new opportunities and a brighter future.

Before you file for divorce, however, you should explore your options. There are other ways to dissolve a marriage than the classic courtroom battle we often see in movies and TV shows. Understanding the pros and cons of options like DIY divorce, mediation, litigation, etc. can help you choose the best path forward in your divorce.

DIY Divorce—Too Good to be True?

The internet has made countless aspects of our day-to-day lives easier, and do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce is no exception. DIY divorce services offer individuals or couples easily printable forms they can fill out and file with their local court to finalize their divorce.

The allure of DIY divorce is obvious—it gives couples a way to circumvent various costs commonly associated with the divorce process, like legal fees for attorneys. Additionally, most DIY divorce services promise divorcees a "quick, painless" way to resolve their divorce.

If that all sounds too good to be true, it's probably because it is. While DIY divorce is quick and low-cost, the negatives often outweigh the positives:

  • DIY divorce gives divorcees almost no legal protection. If one party decides to try and get more than they deserve out of the divorce or engages in an action like tampering with marital property, you need a divorce attorney by your side to protect your rights. DIY divorce doesn't offer adequate legal protection to divorcees.
  • DIY divorcees may make decisions they regret. Perhaps the biggest issue with DIY divorce is how much DIY divorce forms may over-simplify the process. Decisions you make during your divorce, like how you handle child custody or property division, can impact you for the rest of your life. DIY divorce doesn't give divorcees enough information to make truly educated decisions about how to handle a divorce.
  • DIY Orders often do not include as much detail as one drafted by your attorney, and they often run into enforcement or clarification issues over the next few years.

The only time DIY divorce is truly a good alternative is if you and your partner totally agree on all aspects of the divorce (which is rare), and you're completely confident in how you want to handle various divorce-related processes like child custody, alimony, property division, etc. If you don't meet those criteria, you're probably better off dissolving your marriage using different means.

If you are confident that you and your partner agree on all aspects, but would like the assistance of an attorney, consider a low-cost, flat-fee option such as our Simple Texas Divorce program. Our attorneys can help you determine if this is indeed the best option for you and your partner.

Mediation—The Low-Cost, Stress-Reducing Alternative

In mediation, a designated unbiased mediator helps two parties compromise on the terms of their divorce. The mediation process is usually expedient, taking place over one or just a few sessions.

Before going any further, it's important to note that mediators cannot give legal advice to clients—you need to hire an attorney if you want to obtain legal counsel during mediation.

Most local courts require parties to attempt mediation prior to attending final trial. Mediation is often successful and is especially a great option for divorcees who are on good (or at the very least, decent) terms and can engage in good-faith negotiation with one another.

Settlement in mediation allows parties to avoid a trial and often other litigation activity as well, usually making it significantly more cost-effective than a heavily litigated case.

However, mediation is at its best when both parties are willing to collaborate openly and honestly with one another and compromise on the terms of the divorce. If one party tries to manipulate the other or strongarm the process, mediation attempts often quickly derail—and can leave spouses even more estranged from one another than they were at the outset of the divorce.

Because of its collaborative nature, mediation can also be great for divorcees who want to remain on good terms post-divorce. That makes it fantastic for divorcees who work together, have children, or just generally want to stay friends.

Mediation is a great option for individuals who want a low-cost, less stressful way to dissolve their marriage. Parties should consider retaining an attorney well before mediation to ensure they are able to gather the information needed and have their rights protecting during the mediation itself.

Collaborative Divorce—the Jack of all Trades

In a collaborative divorce, both parties choose attorneys to represent them. Those attorneys then work with their clients and each other to negotiate terms for the divorce over several sessions.

The collaborative divorce process has a longer timeframe than mediation, giving divorcees more breathing room to decide how they want to approach complex issues like property division and child custody.

However, because each party has to hire a dedicated attorney and possibly other professionals, collaborative divorce is usually more expensive than mediation. Collaborative divorce can be uncomfortable as couples will work through issues directly through a series of face-to-face meetings, but for parties hoping to co-parent after their divorce, it can be a great way to develop a new, non-married, working relationship together.

If you're not entirely sure how you want to pursue a divorce but do know that you want to remain at least somewhat amicable with your soon-to-be-ex, collaborative divorce is a great option. It encourages both spouses to work together to dissolve their marriage, which can lay the foundation for a better post-divorce relationship—and the involvement of dedicated attorneys helps ensure both spouses feel adequately represented and protected throughout the process.

Litigation—When all our options have been unsuccessful

In litigation, the divorcees are unable to settle their divorce outside of the courtroom. Litigation is often seen as a last resort for couples when mediation or collaborative divorce has not been successful.

When two parties cannot agree on how to dissolve their marriage, even after extensive negotiations, the parties may need to proceed to a final trial and put on evidence in front of the judge or a jury, who will ultimately have the final say in their divorce case. In these cases, the judge or jury will decide what is equitable. When this occurs, decisions about property division and custody are taken out of the hands of the divorcing parties.

For most attorneys (and courts) this is the worst outcome for a divorce since it removes agency from the divorcees and places the outcome in the hands of the court, which may have its own biases and doesn't know the parties as well as they know themselves (and each other).

Unfortunately, there is always a risk with litigation. Unlike mediation or collaborative divorce, litigation removes the ability of the parties to come to an agreement and allows for the judge or jury to make a final determination instead.

Even if the parties are not on the best of terms, judges may require parties to attend mediation prior to scheduling a final trial. Usually, litigation is the last course of action when all prior methods to finalize a divorce have failed.

Sometimes litigation is necessary if one party refuses to negotiate or insists on a litigation fight; it is important to select an attorney who is experienced in amicable cases, including mediation, and litigation, in order to fully represent your interests in your divorce case.

At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we help Texans navigate divorce. 

To receive a consultation with our firm, please contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.

Categories: