What are the Alternatives to Divorce Court?
Divorce can be a complicated and messy process. Part of that process includes a wide array of emotions that both parties and children will experience. One of those emotions is the fear of having a contested divorce hearing. Although Pennsylvania is a no-fault divorce code in terms of claims for divorce and division of property, marital misconduct is a factor in determining requests for alimony. Most people do not wish to have very personal matters brought out in a courtroom setting. At the end of what can be several days of hearings, both parties feel emotionally drained. The judge or master, someone who knows nothing about these parties other than the testimony presented over the preceding days, gets to decide the fate of the family. One of the biggest reasons to consider an alternative to having things decided in court is to retain some control. Control the parties have to make the final decision through either an agreement to settle or an agreement to resolve their dispute in an alternative fashion to traditional litigation in a courtroom. Each option provides the parties with more control than allowing a judge or master to be the final decision maker. Today, we will briefly discuss three alternatives to divorce court.
Settlement negotiations are informal meetings between the parties and their attorneys. This option gives the parties the greatest amount of control. Often, this process will involve one attorney meeting in the conference room of the other attorney’s office. The parties will be present and may or may not be in the room with the attorneys. The attorneys go back and forth with their clients presenting offers. Prior to the day of the meeting, the attorneys have normally already gone back and forth on many issues, likely having agreed on some of them. These settlement negotiations may take hours or days altogether but can be done at the convenience of the parties. The final result entails the parties determining what the future of their family is going to look like.
A mediator is a neutral third party. The mediator should have no relation to or special relationship with either party. This individual will have specialized training in mediation, and quite frequently, in family law mediation. Mediation can occur with parties only or with the parties and their attorneys. In either case, the parties do have their own attorneys as the mediator does not represent either party and cannot give the parties any legal advice. The mediator will work with the parties, and their attorneys if present, to try to reach agreements on outstanding issues. If the attorneys are not present, the mediator will likely draft a memorandum of understanding as to the areas agreed upon. The parties will then review the memorandum with their respective counsel and, if acceptable, the attorneys will work together to finalize the settlement and an agreement. The mediator does not draft the final agreement as doing so presents a conflict of interest between the parties. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the mediator has no power to force any decision on them and nothing before the mediator is admissible as evidence. Without an agreement, the parties may be headed to court.
Similar to mediation, arbitration involves a neutral third party, who does not have a relation to or relationship with either third party. The biggest difference with this compared to mediation is that the arbitration is binding. Arbitration is a form of litigation but it is done privately. There are several advantages to arbitration. Trials in the county courts tend to be set months into the future, maybe even longer. Some parties do not want to wait that long. It is also often difficult to schedule a trial over a number of days so the time it takes to conclude a trial can be over several months. These delays are inherently costly to parties both in the form of increased attorney and expert fees, but also as the delays may prolong some forms of interim support. In arbitration, it is far easier to coordinate calendars and have a quicker proceeding that resolves the matter. Additionally, with a trial, the parties are unable to choose the judge or master deciding the case. In arbitration, the parties and their attorneys must agree upon an arbitrator. Usually, the attorneys are only going to agree to an arbitrator who is experienced in family law arbitration. Also, because arbitration is binding, the matter is over after the arbitrator makes the decision. If a matter is before a judge or master, there can be appeals that drag matters out for months or years. Finally, arbitration is completely private. There are not filings that become public documents so the parties do not need to fear that someone can see some private and intimate details of their marriage and/or finances.
Not sure what is best for you? Sitting down with your attorney and fleshing out the options will help paint a clearer picture of what is best to do for you and your family.
Contact a Pittsburgh Divorce Attorney Today
Have you filed for divorce? Are you planning on filing for divorce? Not sure if an alternative to divorce court is the right option for you? Now is the time to hire an experienced Pittsburgh divorce attorney to help you through this complicated legal procedure. Our skilled attorneys at Bunde & Roberts, P.C. will give you step-by-step guidance to make sure you and your children are protected.