FAMILY LAW MEDIATION IN PIERCE COUNTY
The average Washington couple spends 13-18 months planning a wedding but almost no time preparing for a divorce. It is easy to understand why that happens — one event is fun and exciting and the other is painful and draining. It may also be because our culture tends to look at marriage as “forever” and a divorce as “the end”. Finally, it may also just be that by the time we are ready for the divorce we just want everything associated with relationship to be over with as quickly as possible. We get it. Unfortunately, we see the negative outcomes of these pitfalls every day, sometimes when it is too late to fix them. Our goal with family law mediation is to educate and protect you during these tough times so you can get back on your feet and doing what makes you happy, quicker.
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The financial and emotional outcomes of divorce can be significant and long lasting. Your final decree may affect the age at which you can comfortably retire, damage your credit score, or determine when you can remarry. We understand how difficult all these things are. For these reasons and so many more, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney as soon as you think you may want to consider a divorce. Your consultation is confidential. An experienced divorce attorney can provide you with critical information you need to put yourself in the best position possible when the divorce process begins.
There are four ways to get divorced or legally separated in Washington state: by agreement of the parties, negotiation, mediation and/or arbitration, and litigation (going to court). You do not have to be represented by an attorney to get divorced, but it is a good idea to consult with one early on to determine which option is best for you.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AGREEMENT, MEDIATION, ARBITRATION, NEGOTIATION, AND LITIGATION?
The ability of the parties to come to an agreement is what determines the difference. A long and complex marriage can be resolved by agreement. A brief three-month marriage may end up going to trial. It really depends on the situation and the people involved. This page will provide a brief description of each approach to family law matters, as well as the pros and cons for each to consider. It is important to remember that some divorces will use more than one approach. An attorney can guide you as to the best approach for your unique situation.
AGREEMENT OF THE PARTIES
An agreement in family law mediation is essentially a contract between the parties as to how assets and debts shall be divided. It can also cover the parenting plan and support orders. This may be a good option for you if you are still able to communicate amicably with your partner.
A settlement agreement is typically faster and cheaper than litigation. People are typically happier overall with the outcome. Settlement agreements tend to be quicker and less expensive than the alternatives. Even with attorneys involved, they are less costly because less time is spent arguing over every detail. When the parties can agree on the major issues, legal expenses can be limited to drafting, filing and entering documents.
Pros & Cons of Settlement Agreements
Overall, people tend to be happier with settlement agreement outcomes because they can negotiate. They can negotiate items that are important to them in exchange for something that is more valuable to the other party. Also, the parties tend to feel a little more in control of the outcome with which they will have to live because the decision is by mutual agreement. When a divorce goes to trail, the court can’t assign emotional value to certain items and therefore tends to make pragmatic rulings, which can be more difficult for the parties to accept and live with.
The major downside? A settlement agreement can be a little more difficult to amend later if one party changes their mind. The general belief by the court is that the parties had ample time before they entered the contract. It would be unfair to the other party to treat the agreement as easily disposable. That said, they are not impossible to alter but it can be a costly and lengthy process.
What is family law negotiation? It is a bit of an in-between for parties who can’t quite reach a settlement agreement but don’t need enough help to justify the expense mediation. The parties, typically through their attorneys, can exchange proposed settlement offers. Then they can negotiate on the terms and conditions back and forth until an agreement can be settled on. This takes a little more time than mutual agreement and is therefore a little more costly, but it is certainly more cost effective than mediation or litigation. This is a good option is the parties are close to an agreement but need a little help wrapping it all up.
The pros and cons? Because the outcome is almost identical to an agreement of the parties, as explained above, the same pros and cons apply.
MEDIATION AND/OR ARBITRATION
During family law mediation, a neutral third-party (the mediator) goes back and forth between the parties. The mediator makes an attempt to negotiate a mutually agreeable settlement. Individuals can go to mediation on their own or with their family law attorney as representation. This is a good approach when the parties want to avoid the cost and hassle of trial but can’t agree on the big issues. An experienced family law mediator will review statements from each party prior to the mediation. That helps them to get a feel for what decisions need to be made and what each person wants.
Mediation can be a positive way to handle divorce between disagreeing partners. The biggest benefit of mediation is that it is less expensive than trial. Outcomes also tend to be more of a win-win because the parties still have some say or control of the outcome.
Pros and Cons of Family Law Mediation
The biggest con to family law mediation is that it cannot guarantee results. There is nothing satisfying about paying for and investing a day or two of time and emotions on mediation only to realize you are still going to trial. For this reason it is extremely important to be open and honest with your attorney. You need to be clear about what you want and if you are willing to comprise. If you are honest and concise your attorney can advise you appropriately.
Arbitration is almost a cross between mediation and litigation. An arbitrator hears each party’s position. After some research and analysis, issues a legally binding ruling. The benefit of arbitration over mediation is that it will end in a resolution. The downside is that people may not like the decision. They can end up feeling frustrated that they have to live with a result even though they didn’t get their “day in court”.
Litigation involves anything that requires a ruling from the court, up to and including trial. If enforcement issues arise, it could be after the divorce is final. Every case is different. Just because you go to court for one issue does not mean that you are limited to resolving the whole divorce that way. For example, you may need to litigate temporary spousal maintenance at some point during the process but be able to resolve final maintenance and all other issues by agreement.
The big benefit of litigation is finality. Once the court rules on an issue it is considered a court order and the parties are bound to follow it. If the parties fail to follow a court order, it is typically also enforceable through the court system. Some couples truly cannot agree on the big issues. Child support, custody or the parenting plan, division of assets and debts, etc., can become high conflict topics.
The downside to trial is cost. With several days of preparation, printing and copying, appearance by the attorney, witness fees and more, trials quickly launch the cost of a matter into the five-figure range. An attorney will help you evaluate your situation to determine if trial is your best option.
FAMILY LAW MEDIATION IN TACOMA, WASHINGTON
Our office is here to help! Call us and let us assist with your divorce or legal separation. Whether you are still in the contemplation phase or many months into the process, contact us. We can explain how we can help you achieve results that are meaningful to you.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided above is intended to be a general discussion of common mediation issues. It is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice that applies to your individual fact situation. Always seek legal counsel for advice on your unique case needs.