Ending a marriage is rough on everyone. When kids are involved, it can be deeply upsetting. That’s one reason more and more divorcing couples are looking for ways to avoid Family Court, the place where traditionally a judge would rule on issues like custody, visitation rights, and child support. Often, couples who end up in Family Court find themselves drawn into a prolonged legal battle that can be both expensive and emotionally difficult. If you are getting divorced and prefer to resolve matters without going to court, these steps could help.
1. Consider Mediation
“Mediation, a process where you work out the terms of your settlement — from custody to assets — with the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator saves time and money over going to court, and you stay in control,” says family law expert Bari Weinberger, a certified matrimonial attorney and founder of Weinberger & Family Law Group of New Jersey. Moreover, a divorce played out in family court becomes public record. For many people, that’s reason enough to avoid it if possible. “For high net-worth individuals, celebrity clients, or other people in the public eye, settling out of court in private mediation keeps their divorce details on the ‘down low’ and gives them greater control over sharing any news,” says Weinberger.
2. What to Know About Collaborative Divorce
You remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling”? Her very public announcement that she and Chris Martin would be handling the end of the union in their own way started a movement of so-called collaborative divorces. “It’s a new trend,” says Weinberger. “A major difference between collaborative methods and traditional litigated divorce is a pledge by both parties, in writing, to be part of a respectful process solving problems jointly to preserve the integrity of the family.”
The upside: No court. The challenge: Learning to bite your tongue and rephrase angry thoughts when your spouse pushes all the wrong buttons during financial discussions. Top tip: Get yourself a collaborative divorce specialist. “Any lawyer can offer collaborative services, but a family law attorney trained in collaborative divorce has a more detailed knowledge of the law, and can create a robust, future-proofed divorce settlement,” says Weinberger.
3. Be Willing to Negotiate
Refusing to compromise with your spouse will bring you nothing but an elevated stress level, mounting legal bills, and almost certainly a trip to Family Court. And while you might think that’s what you want, “insisting on your day in court will drag your divorce on for possibly years and will empty your pockets,” says Weinberger.
If you’re fighting over who gets custody of the kids, both of you need a wake-up call: “Courts increasingly recognize that is a child’s best interests to maintain relationships with each of their parents,” says Weinstein. Barring accusations of domestic violence or drug use, in all likelihood the court will declare some sort of joint custody situation. That’s an arrangement you can probably arrive at on your own, with the help of a mediator.
For sure, Family Court has its time and place. “In high-conflict divorces, a more structured process may be preferable,” says Weinberg. But if the situation is tense — but not torrid — you’re probably better off avoiding it. Remember, in litigation, someone you’ve probably never met before will make the majority of the decisions about custody, financial support, and distribution of assets. Not ideal. And that’s at least one thing you and your ex can probably agree on.
6 Ways to Stay Out of Family Court by Divorce Lawyer Bari Weinberger
- Choose to put aside your differences in order to put your kids first.
- Understand that the legal process is not a tool to punish a spouse for being unfaithful. In general, an affair has little impact on who gets what in the divorce.
- Don’t hire shark attorneys! If you hire an attorney who promises to “take your ex to the cleaners,” any chance of peaceful negotiation is out the window.
- Find a creative, solution-focused attorney to help you figure out when to negotiate and when to stand firm.
- Choose an attorney focused on the big picture: Getting you to a place of peace and stability in your life and keeping your relationship with your kids strong.
- Respect each other’s privacy. There’s nothing like one spouse venting in an angry Facebook post to derail what was shaping up to be an amicable divorce.