There are a number of different ways to handle a family law matter. The traditional model of going to court is no longer the only option. Particularly over the last several decades other models have emerged, all designed to create a process that is more family-centered, efficient, and hopefully, more satisfactory. A description of the process options follows.
In this process, you handle your own case with little or no professional or court assistance. You prepare your own paperwork, represent yourself in court, and negotiate your own case. This is the most cost-effective process. Some aspects of a family law case can be complex, and the self-represented litigant will be at a disadvantage in those cases, and may even lose out on important rights. There are some self-help resourses available, for example, the family law facilitator, the self-help centers in many Superior Courts, and the internet. Also, I offer consulting services, and I am available to help you as much or as little as you need. I am available hourly by appointment, or I am available by telephone and email with the payment of a retainer.
Mediation is a voluntary process where the parties meet privately and confidentially with an unbiased, third-party neutral, who helps the couple create an agreement. The mediator is trained in learning the objectives of each party, fostering constructive communication, and breaking through impasse. The mediator will explain the law, but not give legal advice. You can obtain legal advice and an analysis of any agreement from a consulting attorney of your choosing. In mediation, only one professional is used, with the exception of any consulting attorneys, which keeps costs down. In my mediation practice, I prepare all the forms the couple will need from beginning to end. We typically meet in two hour sessions until a final agreement has been reached.
Collaborative Practice is a voluntary dispute resolution process where the parties and the professionals in the case commit to settling all issues without going to court. Each party has an attorney and, in appropriate cases, a “coach.” A coach is a mental health professional who assists a party with effective communication and in formulating that party’s interests and desired outcome. A neutral financial professional can also be involved, who analyzes the family’s finances, designs a budget for each party, and can help plan for your financial life after divorce. When children are involved, a child specialist can be engaged to provide input on what parenting plan would be best. There is a commitment by the parties to use their good faith efforts to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties, and there is full disclosure and transparency in the process. Collaborative Professionals are specially trained in this process.
In the limited scope case, we agree on exactly what work I will do for you. It might include document preparation or a court appearance, as examples. A form is filed with the court notifying the other party that you have an attorney for some part of the case, but not for everything. This option allows you to employ an attorney for the things that you think are most crucial, and it helps you with legal expenses.
In the litigation process, both parties have attorneys, and frequently other professionals are retained as well, for example, CPAs or forensic accountants. Discovery is conducted in order to learn all the facts about a case, which can include document production, interrogatories and depositions. There may be court hearings, including hearings for temporary orders and a trial at the end of the case. Most professionals use their best efforts to settle a case, but sometimes settlement is not possible and litigation becomes necessary. Litigation is costly and time-consuming because it is not easy to obtain trial dates, and they are rarely consecutive. A private judge can be retained, which gives greater flexability regarding dates and scheduling.
As a consulting attorney, I advise you as often as you need assistance. We can either meet in person, or communicate by telephone and email. If you are handling your case on your own, or if you are involved in mediation, the consulting attorney helps you along the way. I can prepare or review documents, help you with strategy and how to put your case on in court, or review a proposed settlement agreement.