If you are facing a potential divorce or other family law issue, you should be considering what legal approach you will use to resolve it. You actually have several choices. Here are some comments about different options. Fort Worth divorce and family lawyers should be able to discuss all of these options with you. If an attorney tries to limit your choices, you should get a second opinion.
1. Litigation. The old standard approach is to use litigation, where one side files in court, sets a temporary hearing and serves papers on the other side. That starts a cycle of hearings, motions, negotiations, conferences with the Judge and the gathering and exchange of information (“Discovery”), and then more hearings. Sometimes you have no choice. Litigation is the default system that is used. If the other attorney isn't trained in Collaborative Law, then you can't utilize it. Your best approach is to search for a trained Collaborative lawyer who can help you decide whether Collaborative or litigation is the better approach.
2. Collaborative Law. This process is a way to stay out of court. Both parties have to agree to be able to use this process. We normally bring in a neutral mental health professional (MHP)and a neutral financial professional to work with the parties. This approach is cost-effective because a lot of basic work is done without the attorneys present. The parties will each meet with their attorney to discuss the financial and child-related issues. Then the parties meet without their attorneys present with the financial professional to gather and organize financial information and with the MHP to discuss options on taking care of the children. With information gathering and preliminary work done, the parties then meet again with their lawyers in joint sessions.
Collaborative Law turns out to be a very efficient process. We use lower-cost, but more qualified experts to lead the effort on the financial and child-related issues, and then the attorneys help everyone consider the legal ramifications of the different options. There are more choices and better quality decision-making.
3. Mediation. In Tarrant County, and most of Texas, parties do not generally go through mediation without lawyers. In California and some other states, it is common for unrepresented mediations to occur. In some cases, it may work out, but the more complicated the facts, the greater the need for lawyers is. When there are retirement benefits, stock options, various investments with different tax considerations and other substantial financial issues, the parties need more help than they can get from just a neutral mediator who is on neither party's side. People with significant or complicated assets or liabilities should not attempt to divorce without legal advice. A mediator cannot give legal advice to the parties. A mediator only helps the parties come to an agreement, regardless of what the terms are.
4. Direct negotiations. This approach can save a lot of money. All of the people mentioned in 1, 2 and 3 above don't participate. On the other hand, someone is probably going to be taken advantage of, or someone will make a serious financial mistake because of ignorance. Unless there's nothing at stake, this is probably not a good option.
5. Using forms from the Internet. There are a lot of bad, inaccurate or inappropriate forms out there. Even the forms recently published by the Texas Supreme Court are not properly drawn, and are actually intended for a very small number of people. Forms are often misused. The results can be loss of assets, unenforceable orders and problems in collecting child support or getting to see the kids. Unless you have no assets, no debts and no kids, you should avoid using forms to do your own divorce.