The Courtroom is not the only place where the custody, support andproperty decisions in divorce or separation can be resolved. In addition to traditional divorce litigation decided by a judge, you have other options for how you handle your divorce:
1. Kitchen Table Negotiation/Uncontested Divorce
If you have both decided that the marriage is not working and it is time to make a break, there are forms and resources on the web, in books, and in the community to assist you in reaching an agreement on all of the issues that must be resolved before a divorce decree can be entered. It is wise for each party to take any agreement reached to an experienced family attorney to make sure that it is binding and that all necessary items have been covered. It is also useful to have an attorney file the divorce and support documents and facilitate the divorce court process. Attorneys are limited by professional ethics. An attorney can only represent one party, even if you have reached agreement. However you and an attorney can enter into a limited "unbundled" agreement that describes the specific assistance the attorney will provide and what you will do for yourself without counsel.
2. Divorce Mediation Mediation is a conflict resolution process facilitated by a neutral professional. In Birmingham, this is most often a family law attorney with mediation training. Although mental health professionals sometimes provide such services. This is not an attempt at reconciliation. The parties and the neutral mediator sit face to face to work out the issues that the parties cannot agree on alone. The parties may or may not have attorneys, and the mediation can occur with or without attorneys present. One of the founders of family mediation felt strongly that mediation works best when entered into soon after the decision to end the marriage before positions are firmly staked out "on principal" and attorneys have become involved and begun an adversarial process. The mediator paces the discussions, facilitates effective communication, allows venting, helps reduce pressure and separates the parties for separate discussions when necessary. Parties should have any agreement reviewed by counsel before signing. Again, however, you can enter into a limited agreement with an attorney, asking only for advice about the meaning and binding nature of the agreement reached. Attorneys should not lightly undo what the parties have worked hard to agree upon. In mediation you reach an agreement (or don't) that meets the needs and interests of your family, in litigation attorneys argue your legal rights and obligations. These may or may not be the same.
3. Collaborative Divorce This process is new to Birmingham but offers the best of both worlds to parties with significant legal, custody and financial issues to analyze and agree upon. Both parties and both attorneys commit to negotiation and agreement. No suit is filed until all issues are resolved. Because of the specific agreement entered into by the parties and the attorneys, neither side can threaten to run to court over a specific issue without abandoning the entire process. A team of professionals is assembled to handle issues within their expertise and the parties are key members of the team. You will work hard but the end result should put you well on your way to a successful post-divorce life. Each party is represented by their own attorney who advises them about the law and advocates on their behalf in face to face meetings with the other party and their attorney. Communications or divorce coaches, child specialists, and financial neutrals are involved as necessary.Once an agreement is reached on all issues, the lawyers prepare and file the necessary papers to obtain an uncontested divorce decree.
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