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We know that approximately one half of all marriages end in divorce. What is new is the myriad of ways in which couples can become legally divorced – the types of processes available, and the different professionals who can help in these processes.
1. Adversarial / Traditional
When most people think of divorce, they think ugly. The traditional divorce is adversarial and/or litigated. Each party hires the meanest, nastiest attorney they can find – typically referred by someone who has recently been through it – and they go at it. Oftentimes these cases end up being resolved on the courthouse steps or by a judge. They are typically costly and emotionally draining.
On the other end of the spectrum is mediation. In this type of divorce, the parties decide that they can resolve their differences themselves. They just need someone to help guide them, inform them of divorce procedures make suggestions, and otherwise act as a neutral objective problem solver. The Mediator may or may not be an attorney, and in fact, if the Mediator is an attorney, he/she is not acting as such and typically recommends both parties consult with “review counsel” prior to completion of the Divorce Agreement. If both parties can negotiate in good faith with one another, mediation can be much less costly and less emotionally draining than a litigated divorce.
Many couples decide to get divorced without attorneys at all. They figure it out on their own, write their own agreement, do their own filings and make their own court appearance. While obviously the least costly of the other processes, if there is any kind of a power imbalance between the parties, inequitable results can occur.
4. Collaboration & Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Collaboration is a compromise between traditional and mediation. Like traditional, each party has his/her own attorney. Like mediation, it is conducted in a non-adversarial manner, all parties agreeing not to litigate in advance. The new collaborative model incorporates a mental health professional to act as a coach and possibly a specifically trained financial professional to act as a financial neutral. While potentially costly, if done properly, this process can produce the most acceptable results with the least amount of emotional turmoil.
With the introduction of outside professionals into the divorce process, new trends are starting to emerge. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, or IACP, has very specific guidelines as to qualifications for professionals who wish to participate in collaborative divorce. Included in these guidelines is training in both mediation and collaboration. As a result, both mental health and financial professionals engaged in divorce work, and who are in compliance with the guidelines, are qualified to assist divorcing parties in both the financial and emotional aspects of divorce.
For example, Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA’s) can collect financial information, format that information, run various division of property and alimony scenarios and, can in fact, mediate the financial aspects of the divorce. Mental health professionals can, for example, design parenting plans, and mediate. What neither professional can do is write an agreement or appear in court. However, consider the case of a couple who want to get divorced as cheaply as possible, but not without help. They can divorce “pro-se” but with the help of specifically qualified financial and mental health professionals.
Another hybrid example would be for a couple to retain the services of financial and mental health professionals first, and once preliminary financial issues have been formatted and a parenting plan outlined, then retain legal counsel to finish the job.
The good news in the often sad and troubling world of divorce is the options now available to couples, who for whatever reason seek divorce. New divorce processes and qualified non-lawyer professionals offer divorcing couples the opportunity to avoid litigation, maintain dignity and respect, and contain costs.
If the court refuses to award alimony at the final hearing, and if alimony is not included in the final judgment, neither spouse can return to court in the future and request alimony due to a change in circumstance. Many final divorce judgments in Connecticut award $1 a year in alimony because this preserves the right to revisit the alimony issue if circumstances change.
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