When you first start researching the divorce process it’s clear that there are different categories – traditional, collaborative divorce, mediation and even online divorce. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that divorces don’t fall into these neat classifications. People are “unbundling” divorce to make the process better suit their situation. If you have the motivation and the right circumstances, then this can work in your favor.
Today I’d like to introduce you INRIS. He’s been divorced for about three years now and his children ranged in age from second grade to two years-old at the time of his divorce. His divorce was not the fiery, dramatic kind, but rather the slow, deliberate untangling kind. Avoiding legal fees was high on the priority list for both INRIS and his wife and that lead them to pulling together a divorce process that worked for them. Here’s INRIS:
In Washington State you are allowed to perform your own divorce. I wouldn’t say it’s very easy, but the instructions are available online in terms of what forms you need to fill out, how you go to court, how you handle things.
Even if you have kids, you can do your own divorce without a lawyer. A friend of mine had actually done that and was happy with the results. I had suggested it to my wife because it’s a cost-effective alternative to both of you hiring lawyers.
Lawyers have their own agenda that may or may not line up with yours. I suggested it to her and I realized it might not go over super well. She thought about it and she’s like, “You know, it makes a lot of sense,” but she was a little concerned that she might miss some of her rights or some other obligation that could make a real difference down the line and that we should have some sort of independent third party involved in the process just to make sure things were fair.
I hate to say it. She said, “I don’t want to end up leaving money on the table,” which is kind of a mercenary thought but it’s also understandable and it’s completely reasonable. She didn’t want us to do our own divorce and then discover, “Oh, wait a minute I could have benefited from a better settlement,” so she wanted to have a third party. I was totally fine with this.
She talked to somebody and found out about the option of mediation. I allowed her to suggest a mediator. I don’t recall how she found this mediator, but she gave me his website and information and I looked it up. She did not choose this mediator because he was somebody that any of our friends used.
We did both eventually have lawyers of our own review the documents before we actually filed them and I do not recommend going through a divorce without any legal advice. We both did do that, but we did it in a non-adversarial way. We were looking for someone to review the documents. We were not looking for somebody to prosecute a case.
I found the lawyer who read through my documents through a friend of mine who had recently gone through a divorce and who recommended this person well.
You don’t want to go in with documents that are prepared quarterly, because you don’t want a judge to start imposing a decision upon you, which the judge can do. So, the extent to which you go in as amicably as possible to devise an agreement that works as well as possible, conforms to the laws—you want to come up with an agreement that you both can live with that the judge will sign off on. You don’t want to raise the judge’s attention and then the next thing you know, other people are making your decisions for you.
To the extent that doing your own divorce is available, I recommend people pursue it. It depends on the kind of divorce you want to have. If your intention is to be vindictive, you probably want to find someone who’s cutthroat and who will take care of all of the nasty details. But in our case, we were trying to do this without spending too much money. We didn’t have that much money to spend and all of these things cost money, but we also wanted to be responsible to ourselves too and to the kids.
The Divorce Coach Says
It’s definitely more work on your part to unbundle your divorce but the cost savings can be significant. I do think it’s essential that both you and your spouse get independent legal advice so you have a clear understanding of your legal rights and obligations. Understanding how the court might rule on a particular issue, knowing the range of possibilities will help keep your negotiations realistic.
A mediator is there to facilitate an agreement between the two of you – they are supposed to be impartial, and they can’t give legal advice which is another reason why you both need to have consulted with an attorney. Using a mediator can be effective if you are both committed to working out an agreement but are struggling with compromising or communicating. It’s up to you to define the terms of the mediator’s engagement – their role could be limited to the parenting plan, for example and have nothing to do with the financial settlement. If you’re both agreed on the division of your assets and your parenting plan, you may not even need a mediator.
You’ll also need to figure out what paperwork needs to be filed with court. This can be intimidating and confusing but try not to let that put you off. Many courts these days have helpful websites and offer free seminars on the process. There are also online divorce services that will prepare the paperwork for you and you may find a local attorney who also offers paperwork preparation for a flat fee.
You have more options today than ever. Your challenge will be finding what’s going to work for you.
INRIS blogged about his divorce while it was in progress over at It Never Rains In Seattle … that’s how I first connected with him. It’s definitely worth visiting and looking through the archives.