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Alternatives to a litigated divorce

When you decide to divorce, you need professional guidance, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to hire a lawyer immediately.

You have options, especially if you anticipate your divorce will be friendly and you expect few conflicts. Your first call, instead, could be to a mediator.

The mediator is neutral and doesn't advocate for one party over another. Mediators aren't there to offer legal advice but rather to guide two people to deciding - together -- what is an equitable agreement when it comes to things such as property, finances and child custody.

For couples with no children and/or those who have kept their finances fairly separate, a mediator could be a good start. Mediation is a more cooperative, and less expensive, way to split up than litigation. Since you will have less money individually as you start fresh than you did as a couple, saving money can be crucial in a divorce.

If you believe you can achieve your goals through mediation, you'll still want to call in a lawyer to review your agreement during the process to make sure the settlement is equitable and you haven't missed anything. While skilled mediators are capable of steering you toward a settlement and some are attorneys, remember that they aren't legal advocates for you. You need to have someone working toward just your best interests.

Mediation doesn't work in every situation, and if you find it won't work for you, that still doesn't mean a long, drawn-out legal process must occur.

Another option is collaborative divorce, where you, your spouse and your lawyers meet with the goal of working out all the details. Together, you could reach a decision without expensive litigation.

Despite what we see in courtroom television dramas or in the movies, couples are often able to divorce without hostility and remain on friendly terms, which is ideal if children are involved. Many couples in Florida have found mediation and collaborative divorce successful ways to end a marriage.

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