Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do I Need A Lawyer To Get A Divorce?

The question I am asked the most: Do I need a lawyer to get a divorce?

NO!! Hiring an attorney is one way to get to divorce court. But, there are actually three ways to get through the legal process of divorce. Another option is to fill-out and file your paperwork on your own. Or, you and your spouse can hire a mediator who can help you reach an agreement and prepare your paperwork. There is no one-size-fits-all process. Each option should bring you the same result – a divorce. But, each option has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Here is what you need to know about each option so you can pick the process that is best for you.

Option #1 – Do It Yourself (DIY) Divorce. DIY Divorce is a good option for couples who have few or no assets, low incomes, and no minor children. So if your situation is uncomplicated you may want to fill-out and file the forms you need for your divorce on your own. In Florida all the forms you need are available on-line, for free, at Alternatively, you can buy a form packet at your local courthouse. And, if you still have questions basic assistance is available at the courthouse for a low fee. Finally, if you and your spouse end up with an unresolved issue the Judge will send you to court-annexed mediation so that a mediator can help you reach an agreement.

Option #2a – The Traditional Attorney-driven Divorce. Hiring an attorney is your best option if you need protection from your spouse or if your spouse has already retained a lawyer. If you are unaware of what the marital assets are or how much your spouse earns a divorce attorney can investigate all of these details. Additionally, if you feel intimidated because of domestic violence or coercion, negotiating without a divorce lawyer is a bad idea. You can find a lawyer through your local and state Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service. Or ask friends and relatives for referrals. It is wise to choose a lawyer whose practice is focused on divorce related matters. Ultimately, when the lawyers are done with their investigation/discovery and confident they have sufficient knowledge to effectively negotiate, you, your spouse, and your lawyers will go to mediation. Chances are that at the end of a marathon mediation session (up to twelve hours) you and your spouse will have a signed settlement agreement. If however mediation is unsuccessful and no agreement is reached you will go to trial and a Judge will decide what happens to your money and your kids post-divorce.

Option #2b – The Collaborative Attorney-driven Divorce. Another slant on the Attorney-driven Divorce is Collaborative Divorce. Here each spouse hires an individual Collaborative lawyer and agrees up-front to share other experts, such as an accountant, business valuator, or child psychologist. The parties and their attorneys are committed to negotiating, using shared information and the feedback of the chosen experts. The Attorneys may also choose to use Divorce Coaches and/or Mediators. But, if the negotiations are unsuccessful the Collaborative Attorneys will not go to trial. Instead, the couple will have to select new attorneys and start the process over from the beginning. This process works well when all the people involved work well together. On the other hand if one of the parties really doesn’t want to move forward s/he can side-track the process and hold the other spouse – who may not be financially or emotionally able to start the process over with new lawyers – hostage.

Option #3 – ProSe/Pre-suit Mediation. (Pro-se means self-represented or unrepresented – in essence without lawyers and Pre-suit means before a law suit has been filed.) This option involves hiring a mediator, instead of two attorneys before, any documents are filed. Couples that want to save time/money and side-step the negative nature of an attorney-driven divorce but still believe that they need the assistance of a knowledgeable professional often find this option attractive. Mediators that offer Pro-se/Pre-suit mediation are trained to guide divorcing couples towards agreement, an uncontested divorce, and a friendlier future. The mediator can also prepare the necessary court documents and forms. And, before or during the mediation process, which typically happens in two or three sessions over the course of a few weeks, either party can consult with (but not retain) an attorney, CPA, or other expert if s/he feels the need for advice. Alternatively, either party can decide to stop the process and retain an attorney instead. At A Friendly Divorce we provide ProSe/PreSuit Divorce Mediation. And at Friendly Divorce Training we teach other professionals to do the same.


The DIY Divorce can get you where you want to go, just like public transportation (the bus) can get you from one place to another. But the process may be slow and crowded so it works best if you don’t have too much baggage. Hiring a lawyer for a Traditional Attorney-driven divorce is like hiring a taxi or limo to get you where you want to go. You will get there but someone else will be choosing the route. That’s OK if you feel you need or want an individual "guide." It will not be good if you disagree with your “driver’s” plan or you believe that the driver is running up the meter. Hiring a lawyer for a Collaborative divorce is like renting a 15-person van: everyone is in there together, taking turns behind the wheel. Because everyone is riding together a lot of scheduling may be necessary. But if you have the right team, which includes you and your soon-to-be Ex, everyone is heading in the same direction. Choosing ProSe/PreSuit Mediation is like renting a car – you are given a vehicle that you and your spouse navigate and drive. Along the way you must agree on what route to take and how fast to go. If you get lost you can stop and ask for additional (or individual) directions or you can ditch the car and call separate cabs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

7 Tips For Creating A Successful Second Marriage

It should come as no surprise that second marriages fail at an alarmingly high rate.  Second marriages are generally loaded with conflict triggers. Kids, in-laws, joint and individual finances, and inner-circle loyalties shoot arrows from all directions at the re-married couple. And, once you've been divorced - and survived the upheaval - its easier to accept a second break-up. So, what can you do to create a successful second (or third) marriages? Read my top 7 tips at

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thirty Five Years of Mediation: Why Haven't We Come Farther?

Using mediation to resolve disputes can be traced, across a variety of cultures, to biblical and ancient times. In this country, the founding fathers recognized the process but mediation did not have a valid place in American policy until 1946 when the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) was formed to resolve labor disputes.

The 1960s brought the civil rights, feminist, environmental, and peace movements along with dissatisfaction with governmental and other institutions. These cultural trends planted the seeds for paradigm shifts and social change. The courts were backlogged and so a push for a better way to resolve disputes ensued.

In 1976 Chief Justice Warren Burger held a conference and ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of Pound’s Paper of 1906 in St Paul, Minnesota. At the Roscoe Pound Conference of 1976 legal scholars met to brainstorm possible improvements to the American legal system. The potential of the mediation process was acknowledged and Chief Justice Berger gave his “blessing” to the start of the ADR movement as we know it. That was 35 years ago. Today, the average person and the average legislator still doesn't understand the concept and how the mediation can be best utilized. What went wrong? Why haven't we come further? What can we do so that we are not having the same discussion ten, twenty, or thirty years from now?

PS. A Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques arrived in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. A 2007 study by the U.S. government found that nearly 9.4% of U.S. adults (over 20 million) had practiced meditation within the past 12 months, up from 7.6% (more than 15 million people) in 2002. Why has meditation done so much better than mediation?