Many critical life events require a surprisingly deep knowledge of the law. While divorce isn't uncommon, the actual process may seem like a mystery to the layperson. For couples and individuals going through their first divorces, the legal terminology may seem complicated and even a little bit overwhelming.
One potential point of confusion is the difference between litigation and mediation. You may also be unclear on the role lawyers play in these options and when you do (or don't) need to hire one to defend yourself. Fortunately, it's easy to learn the basics to make the best decision for you, your former partner, and any children that may be involved in your divorce.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorces
If you and your spouse agree on all terms of your divorce, then you are filing for an uncontested divorce. In these cases, you won't need to worry about either litigation or mediation. Note that you may still want to hire an attorney when filing for an uncontested divorce. However, you will usually only need one to help you file paperwork and handle other bureaucratic details.
In a contested divorce, you and your spouse have disagreements about dissolving your marriage. These disagreements may be over relatively minor matters, or they may include significant issues, such as child custody, alimony, or high-value assets. Resolving an uncontested divorce typically involves either litigation or mediation.
Deciding Between Litigation and Mediation
Litigation and mediation are two different approaches to the same overall problem. Litigation is an adversarial process that will ultimately involve a family court. During a litigated divorce, you will need to argue your case to a judge and allow the state to decide on the best way to resolve your disputes. You'll usually want a lawyer to help you with every step of this process.
On the other hand, mediation is theoretically non-adversarial. If you choose to mediate your divorce, you'll use a third-party mediator to help you resolve differences with your former spouse to arrive at a mutually agreeable arrangement. Some states may require you to attempt mediation before moving on to litigation, and you may ultimately end up in court if you cannot resolve your differences.
While mediation and litigation aren't the same, you may still want to consult with an attorney before beginning the mediation process. A lawyer can help you understand the details of the process and work with you to develop an effective mediation strategy. They can also work with you to ensure any needed paperwork is in order. Some people choose to bring lawyers to mediation sessions, as well.
Every divorce is different, but mediation can often be a lower-cost and less stressful alternative to litigation. If you believe you can work with your former spouse to solve your differences, then it's a process that can help your divorce proceed more quickly and smoothly.
Contact a local lawyer to learn more about divorce mediation.