If you are not in agreement on important issues like child custody, support, visitation and division of property like home and cars or who will be responsible for joint debt, you have a contested divorce. One approach is to hire a litigation attorney to fight it out with your spouse and their attorney before a judge.
Another alternative is to hire a collaborative attorney to help you work through the areas of conflict and see if resolution can be found cooperatively, across a conference room table. Collaborative divorce attorneys know that litigated divorce creates more tension, stress and higher costs for their clients. Active opposition is an unpleasant way to conclude a marriage.
If both parties agree to it, you will enter into a contract with your spouse in which you both agree to resolve your disputes cooperatively. First you would meet with your attorney and work through issues on which you agree and issues on which you disagree. Next the parties will gather some information from each other so everyone's cards are on the table when we meet. There should be no need for formal discovery supervised by a Judge in collaboration. Instead, both parties agree to come forward with complete and truthful responses to requests about for example what assets they have.
Next, the attorneys get together and make sure we are all on the same page as to issues of agreement and issues that are disputed. Once the foundation is laid, all four parties meet together in one place and start working through the issues. Collaboration attorneys are still advocates. Our role is to make sure you are treated fairly throughout the process and guide you to a fair and equitable distribution of assets and debt. It may take 1-3 sessions to resolve contested issues in a typical collaboration.
Finally, the parties file a JOINT divorce decree that reflects their agreement. There is no need for a Judge to hear evidence or decide disputed matters in a way that may not be satisfying to either party.
Your collaborative attorney represent you just for collaboration. If either party gives up on the collaboration and wants to litigate, the collaborative attorneys both withdraw from the case and the parties hire litigation attorneys. So your attorney has no incentive to "feed the fire" of hostility between the parties.
Collaborative divorce tends to take less time and incur fewer attorney fees and costs than traditional contested divorce. It's a recognition that our adversary system is not well suited to the separation of families, especially when children are involved. In fact, collaboration is a great opportunity to model for our children how to resolve difficult disputes. Iowan's who opt for uncontested divorce are often able to get joint physical care of their children since cooperation between the parties is a big factor.
Jeff Mathias Law Office, 4800 Mills Civic Parkway, Suite 218, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265, 515-261-7526 or Toll Free, 1-800-997-1395.
See Wikipedia on Collaborative Law. See Jeff's Des Moines Collaborative Divorce website.