Divorce can be an emotionally charged and messy experience. Many couples who decide to end their marriages dread the thought of protracted family court litigation and the records of their divorce proceedings becoming publicly accessible. Everything that transpires in a civil case becomes a public record, which applies to divorce proceedings. If you are preparing to divorce in St. Louis, MO, and have any concerns about privacy and the potential outcome of your case, it’s natural to wonder whether you can resolve your divorce without a public trial.
Divorce litigation may be unavoidable in some instances, but virtually any divorcing couple can take advantage of alternative dispute resolution. Exploring these options can potentially save you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse a significant amount of time and money in handling your dissolution proceedings. Anyone preparing for divorce in St. Louis, MO, should understand what alternative dispute resolution entails and their options for pursuing it.
What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?
A divorce case is a civil case that unfolds through the family court system. While family law is a unique area of civil law, there are similar legal mechanisms for resolving divorce cases, personal injury disputes, and other civil claims. Similar to how parties in a civil claim can resolve the issue through private settlement negotiations, it’s possible for divorcing spouses to avoid litigation through alternative dispute resolution.
Instead of a family court judge having the final say on every aspect of a divorce, alternative dispute resolution can potentially allow a divorcing couple to customize their divorce terms to their individual needs and preferences. The two most common options for alternative dispute resolution in Missouri are collaborative divorce and divorce mediation, and you should understand the benefits that each option offers.
Collaborative Divorce in St. Louis, MO
Think of collaborative divorce as the equivalent of a private settlement negotiation in a civil case. The two divorcing spouses and their legal representatives meet privately and negotiate their divorce terms. They can potentially resolve property division, spousal support, and other elements of their divorce without the need for protracted litigation. However, parents cannot settle child custody or child support. The Illinois family court must rule on custody and child support to ensure the order preserves the child’s best interests.
Many divorcing couples in Missouri use collaborative divorce as a stepping stone in their divorce proceedings, settling as much as they can privately before moving to litigation to handle the rest of their divorce-related issues. This can translate to significant savings. In addition, the couple can potentially have more personalized terms in their divorce order as long as the judge reviewing their agreement deems those terms in alignment with Missouri state law.
What Is Mediation?
Divorce mediation is very much like a collaborative divorce in that it involves private negotiations between the divorcing spouses and their legal advisors. However, mediation requires the participation of a third party, a neutral mediator tasked with helping the couple draft their divorce settlement. During mediation, the divorcing spouses meet with their attorneys and their mediator and discuss each item of their divorce one by one. The mediator keeps the conversation focused and productive, and they can clarify any legal statutes that apply to the negotiations at hand. However, they cannot offer direct legal advice to either divorcing spouse.
Like a collaborative divorce, mediation does not allow the divorcing couple to resolve any matters pertaining to child custody or child support. However, the mediator can help the divorcing parents draft a parenting plan that includes their preferences for custody and child support terms. The judge overseeing the divorce must approve this drafted plan, and they are likely to require adjustments. However, this can enable the parents to streamline their custody determination and potentially reach more mutually agreeable terms than they could otherwise.
Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution
It’s now quite common for divorcing spouses in Missouri and throughout the United States to explore alternative dispute resolution to avoid the time, expense, and stress that litigation demands. Every couple will have different reasons for choosing an alternative dispute resolution. Some of the most commonly cited benefits are:
- Lower legal expenses for both spouses. When you need to hire a family law attorney to represent you in divorce, their representation will be more expensive depending on how much time they spend working on your case. Alternative dispute resolution can unfold quite a bit faster than litigation, which means less time your attorney must bill you for their services and lower overall legal costs at the end of your case.
- Faster results. Divorcing couples can generally negotiate divorce terms much faster than a judge would decide them. While divorce litigation can take several months to resolve, some divorcing couples can negotiate their divorces using alternative dispute resolution in far less time.
- More individualized divorce terms. When judges handle divorce litigation, they have the final say on every aspect of the case. Therefore, if the couple negotiates divorce terms privately, it’s easier for them to reach more preferable results, such as avoiding the need to liquidate certain assets and divide the proceeds for property division. Their negotiated terms must still align with state law, however.
- Privacy. Everything said during courtroom proceedings becomes public record. Since many divorce cases will require discussion of deeply personal topics, the privacy that alternative dispute resolution can provide is often enough to compel divorcing couples toward this option. Everything discussed in private alternative dispute resolution sessions remains confidential, even when your divorce record becomes public.
Discuss Your Situation With a Skill St. Louis Lawyer
Every divorce will involve unique issues, but virtually every divorcing spouse can see the benefits of exploring alternative dispute resolution. It’s natural to have lots of legal questions when facing a complex and life-changing case like a divorce. You may not be positive that alternative dispute resolution would be a realistic option for your situation. Consult an experienced St. Louis, MO, divorce lawyer to determine whether alternative dispute resolution is worth pursuing for your divorce case.