Do We Have to Go to Divorce Court?
Some divorces stay out of court entirely, which can save you both time and money. Other divorces are litigated, which involves the case going before a judge. With the right approach, you may be able to control which way your divorce goes.
If you and your spouse are able to agree on every aspect of the divorce, you can sign a settlement agreement and avoid court. Keep in mind that a settlement agreement can be signed at nearly every stage of the divorce. As long as you submit the agreement at or before the final hearing, it will likely be accepted by the court if it's reasonable.
How to avoid going to court
If you want your divorce to stay out of court, there are numerous steps you should follow to avoid derailment. Your main goal during this process should be to settle issues such as alimony, asset division, and parenting time without any major disagreements.
The next step involves speaking with your spouse about the divorce and any finer details. If you and your spouse disagree about anything, try to meet in the middle. Make sure you gather all of your financial documentation before finalizing any settlement agreements. These documents will make it easier to determine spousal maintenance, child support, and property division.
If you have children, it's highly recommended that you work with your spouse to craft a parenting plan that takes parenting time, child support, and similar factors into account.
Can't agree? Try mediation
In the event that you and your spouse are unable to agree on one or two details, consider working with a third-party mediator to help you negotiate and resolve these issues. Once an agreement has been made, all that's left is for you and your spouse to sign the agreement, after which it will be given to the judge. If the agreement meets all state laws, the judge will likely submit it as the final court order.
Going to divorce court
If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on everything, your divorce will be taken to court, which means an extensive amount of time and money must be spent on litigating the case. In most scenarios, a trial is held solely before a judge. However, a jury may also be involved.
Both you and your spouse will be tasked with presenting evidence and calling any witnesses who can support your claims regarding property division, child custody, and financial support. Once the court considers all of the testimonies and evidence presented, a final decision will be made. The judge will then sign the final divorce decree.
Regardless of the route your divorce takes, keep in mind that there will be a lot of variation from couple to couple.
The downsides of divorce court
When seeking a divorce, it's understandable that you and your spouse may not be on the same page about everything. However, avoiding divorce court is highly recommended in most situations.
During a contentious divorce, many people believe they'll get some amount of emotional satisfaction by going to divorce court. In reality, this process is rarely ever satisfying for anyone.
There are many downsides to going to court, the primary of which include the following:
- A trial takes time. After the court date is set, you may have to wait months before you even go to trial.
- You’ll incur higher costs. Court fees can be very high and will only increase as the trial goes on.
- You’ll be paying for an attorney. Hiring an attorney to represent you during the trial can cost thousands of dollars. That cost may reach into five figures.
- You may miss work. The time you spend preparing for the trial and attending court proceedings can keep you out of work, which means you may lose money and risk being fired.
- The children feel more stress. A lengthy trial is emotionally taxing for everyone involved. It can be particularly stressful for children who do not understand all that's going on.
Alternatives to divorce court
Several alternative options exist for those who want to avoid court. These include mediation, a private judge, and a confidential marital settlement.
A third-party mediator will help you and your spouse resolve any issues, after which time a settlement agreement can be made. The benefits of mediation include low costs, less time, and less contentious divorce proceedings.
The only negative of this option is that hiring a mediator serves to prolong the process somewhat if you and your spouse agree on almost everything.
It's possible to hire a private family law judge to preside over your divorce case. If you don't want your divorce proceedings to be public, this option may appeal to you.
The primary benefits of hiring a private judge include a reduced wait time for your case to be heard and access to a judge focused solely on your case. The primary downside is that hiring a private judge is expensive.
If you and your spouse already agree on every detail of your divorce, you may be able to avoid hiring a mediator or going to court, which means the marital settlement would be confidential.
The main benefits of a confidential marital settlement include lower costs, less time spent litigating issues, and enhanced privacy. The primary disadvantage is that you may not be perfectly satisfied with every aspect of the settlement.
Resolving issues on your own outside of court
If you'd like to stay out of court and resolve issues on your own, you can do so with a marital settlement agreement. The main issues you must settle before an agreement is signed and finalized include the following:
- Property and debt: In most states, property and debt should be divided in an equitable manner between spouses. Keep in mind that this only applies to property and assets obtained during the marriage.
- Spousal support: If you made considerably more money than your spouse during the marriage, alimony payments may need to be made to support your spouse's quality of life. Deciding on the amount of spousal support can be difficult, which is why advice from a professional may be necessary.
- Child custody and support: If you have children, you will need to determine who has custody of your children and when. For instance, weekends and weekdays could be alternated between each spouse. As for child support, the amount paid by one spouse to another depends on the child’s needs.
If you want to avoid going to trial but would like other professionals to be involved with settling your divorce, consider a collaborative divorce. This is a legal process wherein you and your spouse use lawyers but still avoid having your case decided before a judge.
How Hello Divorce helps you stay out of court
At Hello Divorce, we can help you select the best route for your divorce journey. Along with guiding you through the entire divorce, we can review all of your documents and provide helpful tips for litigation, should the need arise. Hello Divorce is here for you whether you have a simple divorce or a complicated one.