For most divorcing couples, the ideal scenario is to resolve their divorce amicably and without any unnecessary court involvement. However, divorces also tend to be more complicated than most people realize, and unexpected issues can make it more difficult to come to terms than initially anticipated.
When this occurs, spouses still have a few options before it becomes necessary to ask a judge to make decisions for them. First, despite discovering unanticipated differences, it may still be possible to negotiate an amicable resolution. If it proves necessary to seek outside help, then the options that are available include mediation and collaborative divorce.
3 Options for Resolving Spouses’ Differences during a Divorce in Washington
While the term “negotiation” may sound formal, negotiating an amicable resolution is the path that most couples take to resolve the terms of their divorce out of court. In the context of a divorce, negotiating means identifying all of the issues that need to be resolved (e.g., distributing marital assets and establishing a comprehensive parenting time plan) and then systematically addressing them one by one. Each spouse should be represented by his or her own attorney, as this will ensure that each spouse receives independent legal advice focused on his or her individual long-term best interests. Once all issues have been resolved, then the spouses will sign an agreement that becomes binding upon the finalization of their divorce.
In some cases, spouses will be in agreement about keeping their divorce out of court, but they will still be unable to come to terms on all aspects of their divorce. For example, maybe both spouses have a strong desire to remain in the family home; or, perhaps their respective work schedules make it difficult to develop a mutually-agreeable parenting plan. In this scenario, mediation can be an effective tool for finding a solution that is acceptable to both parties.
In mediation, each spouse continues to be represented by his or her own attorney, but they work together with a third-party “mediator” whose job is to help them find common ground. This mediator is entirely neutral, and he or she will typically have extensive experience in divorces and other family law matters. For example, the mediator may be another family law attorney or a former court judge. The mediator does not make decisions for the spouses, but instead utilizes his or her experience to help them explore new alternatives and work toward finding common ground.
It is not unusual for divorcing spouses to be willing to work together but to also have interests that are in direct conflict. When this occurs, mediation can provide a viable solution. While it is possible to use mediation to resolve all aspects of a divorce, spouses can also use mediation to resolve specific issues that they are unable to resolve independently.
3. Collaborative Divorce
Unlike mediation, a collaborative divorce does not require the involvement of a third-party neutral. Instead, the spouses (still represented by their own attorneys) work together to come to terms, seeking the help of outside professionals such as financial advisors and mental health professionals as necessary. Due to the unique nature of the collaborative divorce process, each spouse’s attorney should have extensive experience with collaborative law and both spouses should have a clear understanding of the process prior to agreeing to move forward.
A key aspect of a collaborative divorce is that both spouses agree at the outset not to take their divorce to court. If either spouse breaks this agreement, then both will be required to hire new attorneys for their divorce litigation. The purpose of this agreement is to help ensure that both spouses are committed to the collaborative process, as it provides a financial disincentive to abandon the process and seek a judicial resolution.
Collaborative divorce can be a good option for spouses who have complex issues to resolve and who are equally committed to avoiding hostility and emotionally driven decision making. While it isn’t right for everyone, if it makes sense for you, it can provide an effective and relatively efficient means for achieving an amicable divorce.
Tips to Prepare for an Amicable Divorce
Regardless of the method (or methods) you and your spouse choose, there are steps you can take to help ensure that the divorce process will go as smoothly as possible. While you cannot expect to anticipate every potential issue, thinking and planning ahead can help you avoid unexpected stumbling blocks along the way.
Here are five tips that may prove helpful for spouses who are seeking to pursue an amicable divorce:
- Inventory Your Assets – Prepare a list of all of your assets, including real estate, personal property, financial accounts, and digital assets. Make note of which assets you (or your spouse) owned prior to your marriage and which ones you acquired while you were married.
- Collect Your Financial Records – Collect copies of your most recent tax returns, paystubs, W2s, 1099s, and other financial records. Collect recent checking account and credit card statements as well.
- Think about Parenting Time – Review Washington’s “best interests” factors for establishing parenting time and think critically about how they apply to your family circumstances. Learn about the different types of parenting time plans that are available.
- Prioritize – Begin thinking about what will matter most to you during your divorce. Which assets do you want to make sure you keep? When do you want to make certain you are able to spend time with your children?
- Speak with a Divorce Attorney – Getting divorced is a complicated process with long-term implications. In order to ensure that you are making informed decisions every step of the way, you should work closely with an experienced divorce attorney.
Schedule a Confidential Initial Divorce Consultation in Tacoma, WA
If you live in the Tacoma area and would like more information about preparing for an amicable divorce, we encourage you to contact us for an initial consultation. To speak with one of our experienced divorce attorneys in confidence, please call (253) 470-2356 or request an appointment online today.