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Divorce alternatives may be for you, but do your homework

Roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, but that doesn't necessarily resign splitting couples to the stereotypical, lengthy, messy scenario that many people fear. In fact, there are plenty of alternatives to typical divorce.

Mediation is a process in which both partners use a neutral mediator to discuss and agree upon every detail of the divorce. The mediator need not be an attorney, but he or she should be experienced in family law and divorce. This option can help decrease expenses, make it easier for children to handle the divorce and improve the ongoing relationship between spouses because they won't have to fight in court.

It does have some potential cons, however. If the mediator becomes biased toward one spouse, the other may not get a fair settlement. And because the disclosure of financial information is voluntary rather than by subpoena, there's potential for one or both spouses to hide assets and income. A mediator's lack of experience could also render the negotiations a waste of time. That's one reason it's important for both spouses to hire an attorney to represent them.

Another option is litigated divorce, which entails carrying out a lawsuit even if the case does not end up in a courtroom. The most popular option for divorce, it also allows many freedoms. For example, litigated divorce allows for a settlement that pleases both parties, allows agreements regarding child custody and provides an opportunity to divide assets easily and have other benefits.

In collaborative divorce, both parties in the divorce reach a settlement without stepping into a courtroom. In this process, which works best for couples who have few disagreements on how to manage debt, assets and child custody issues, both spouses and attorneys meet to negotiate a settlement. The negotiations may include a financial planner who has experience with divorce situations.

The do-it-yourself divorce is the least recommended. Divorce is usually rife with legal and financial complications, and often the mistakes made by do-it-yourselfers are irreversible. However, for couples who have only been married a short time, have a limited number of belongings to divide or have no children, it may be a good option. It can also be the least expensive while providing a quick outcome. However, attorneys for both spouses are still recommended.

Whatever option you choose, consulting a family law attorney who can examine the circumstances of your impending divorce is the best first step.

Source: Forbes, "The Four Divorce Alternatives," Jeff Landers, April 24, 2012

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