Alternative Dispute Options

“My wife and I are thinking about ending our marriage, but we’d like to avoid a “knock down drag out” divorce. Is that possible?” 

This is a common question we get and one that we are happy to hear. It tells us that many people just want to end the marriage the most agreeable way as possible and save the financial and emotional cost of a contested divorce trial. The parties do not hate each other. Their marriage just did not work out. They just want to move forward and are looking for another option. And there are several other options available in Ohio. We will briefly introduce many of those options in this blog and in coming blogs will go into greater detail about the individual options.

One option growing in popularity is collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce, also called collaborative dissolution, is a “team” process in which the parties engage attorneys and other professionals to assist in the negotiation and settlement of their dispute. The parties agree from the outset that they will not litigate. Instead, they agree to put together a team that may include third-party neutrals (such as CPAs, valuation experts, child psychologists and mental health professionals) to assist the couple in reaching an agreement. Collaborative law uses this “interdisciplinary model” because ending a marriage is more than just simply dividing up assets and debts and knowing where the children are going to sleep on a particular night. It is restructuring a family. The team approach allows a couple to bring into the team these other non-lawyer professionals to help with what might be non-legal issues such as what parenting time schedule will best help a child to adjust to living in two homes and how can the parents better communicate.

Early neutral evaluation is another option. In early neutral evaluation, the parties meet with a neutral third party lawyer who has experience in family law. Both parties present information and the neutral offers each party a confidential opinion regarding the likely outcome of the case and an analysis of strengths and weaknesses of each side’s arguments. The purpose of this evaluation is to give both parties a realistic view of the case and to encourage settlement. The neutral does not provide any individual, personal legal advice to either party, or draft any pleadings or other documents for either party. At the end of this process, the parties are referred to other lawyers for personal advice and drafting of documents.

Mediation is another option. Mediation is a method of resolving conflict that involves disputing parties sitting down together with a skilled impartial individual, called a mediator, who helps them work out a voluntary solution to the problem that is acceptable to everyone involved. The mediator is not a Judge authorized to make a decision for the parties or to decide who is right or wrong in the dispute. Mediation is a process in which a mediator facilitates communication and negotiation between parties to help them reach a voluntary agreement about their dispute. If the mediation is successful and the parties are able to reach an agreement, the mediator puts the agreement in writing and the parties then provide the written agreement to their attorneys to be incorporated into the necessary legal documents.

Co-resolution is a new and growing method of alternative dispute resolution. Co-resolution uses mediation and coaching processes to help parties reach a voluntary agreement. Each party works with a negotiation coach. Parties and coaches promise not to engage in any manipulation or unfair tactics to gain an upper hand on the other. And, like mediation, if the process is successful and the parties are able to reach an agreement, a memorandum of understanding is drafted and the parties then provide that to their attorneys to be incorporated into the necessary legal documents.

If you have questions about options for ending your marriage other than a contested divorce you should contact one of our family attorneys to discuss what options may be right for you.