Divorcing couples are not always aware of all the options that are available to terminate their marriage. In addition to a traditional divorce action that is resolved in the Kansas and Missouri courts, there are two other methods that may be used—mediation and collaborative law.
Mediation – For the overwhelming majority of families, mediation can save time and money, and reduce the stress in difficult situations. In divorce mediation, both spouses begin by meeting together in the mediator’s office.
The mediator is usually an attorney who has experience in matrimonial law and has mediation training. Sides are not taken with either party. Instead, the mediator attempts to help both parties understand the issues that need to be addressed and the available options. The mediator gathers information, listens to both sides and explains the law in general terms. There are separate meetings with each party. The mediator then assists the parties in reaching their own agreement and promotes a confidential settlement process. One of the advantages of mediation is that it promotes flexible and creative solutions that courts and lawyers may not have considered.
The same topics are covered in mediation as the topics covered in a litigated divorce including:
- Spousal maintenance (alimony)
- Parenting schedules and plans
- Child support and related issues
- Distribution of financial assets and financial liabilities
- Disposition of the home and automobiles
- Payment of outstanding credit card bills and other liabilities
Mediation is completely voluntary. At any time during the process, either spouse may decide to discontinue the mediation process. Then traditional methods of divorce litigation may be pursued. However, most couples who begin mediation complete the process and obtain their divorces through the mediation process. Once an agreement is reached, the mediator prepares all of the necessary documents, although he or she does not represent either side. Either spouse may seek the assistance of an attorney prior to signing and submitting the negotiated agreements to the court for final approval.
How to choose a mediator – When choosing a mediator, it is important to select someone you are willing to talk with openly and honestly and who will talk to you in the same way: Obtain referrals from other clients, attorneys, and judges. Use the same common sense and due diligence that you would when hiring a lawyer, an accountant, or other professional. Examine the mediator’s educational and professional background. Look for a mediator trained in divorce mediation who is a member of professional mediation organizations. Consider an attorney’s experience and knowledge of the law.
Collaborative law – Collaborative law is a relatively new field that strives to blend the best of mediation and traditional divorce representation. The parties and their attorneys commit from the start to strive for a settlement. Similar to a traditional divorce action, both parties retain their own separate counsel. The parties then follow a process that is guided by many mediation principles. The parties engage in informal discovery. Many of the meetings and negotiations are conducted with the clients present. Often a common expert is agreed upon and used if one is necessary to resolve alimony or support issues. When a settlement cannot be reached, the collaborative lawyers must resign from the case and the divorcing spouses may continue with a traditional divorce.