How much is this going to cost? Any divorce lawyer who claims they can tell you with absolute certainty how much your litigation will cost is likely guessing or worse, lying to you. Litigation involves people who have emotions, feelings, opinions, and goals that differ considerably on opposing sides. The cost involved is going to be largely dependent on how those specific individual emotions, feelings, opinions, and goals play out.
The least costly, easiest, and cleanest solution to any problem is by agreement. If you have hired a lawyer to begin litigation, or if you are in the middle of litigation already, you know the lack of cooperation between both sides can be quite costly. The good news is that agreements are possible at every stage.
Cooperation: The first step to reaching an agreement during a divorce
Cooperation is defined as “an act or instance of working together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action.”
In family law, cooperation with the “other side” may sound impossible. If a marriage has fallen apart, and parties are arguing over money, marital assets, and their children, finding cooperation during a divorce may be the farthest from likely scenario.
However, the benefits that come from finding cooperation during a divorce, such as the marriage legally ending, protection of marital assets, and a healthy co-parenting plan for your children make it all worth it. If we remember to highlight the common purpose for even adamantly opposed sides, cooperation is possible, and an agreement with a common purpose in mind can be found.
The problem is cooperation does not magically appear because there is a common purpose. True cooperation requires joint action. How can you do this? Communication, of course.
Communication: The necessary part of cooperation during a divorce
In many meetings with potential new clients, I learn that one of the biggest downfalls in a relationship is a lack of communication. No amount of marriage counseling, self-help books, or self-reflection can solve communication issues with your partner without both of your efforts. Communication takes two, and with it, so much can be resolved.
Communication is not only key for solving disputes in a relationship, but also in resolving disputes when you are ending that relationship. Listening to your spouse’s goals, hearing their concerns, and honestly speaking about your own goals and concerns is the basis for communication in a separation. Cooperation is found when communication happens.
As simple as this process sounds, no one anticipates that spouses going through a separation suddenly will sit down with a common goal and communicate calmly and openly. That is why there is an entire process to facilitate this communication when it has proved impossible during the marriage.
Mediation: The legal process to reach cooperation during a divorce
To simplify, mediation is conducted by a neutral third party (not a judge or anyone with prior knowledge or relationship to the parties) who will exchange offers and help brainstorm solutions based on both sides’ interests. A mediator is specially trained to conduct such negotiations. They are not there to “make a decision” or “hear all the evidence and then decide.” A mediator helps the parties communicate and cooperate.
Mediation is conducted at a convenient location, usually at one of the attorneys’ offices or the mediator’s office (or on Zoom). Often, mediators are practicing attorneys as well and are very familiar with the court process, the assigned judges, and even the attorneys themselves. Their insight is valuable for your case in the event there is no settlement.
The goal in mediation is to resolve controversy and settle any pending litigation. There can be four outcomes from a mediation:
- Full and final settlement of all issues;
- Partial settlement of some issues;
- Reconvene until a new date to gather more information or even to explore other alternatives; and
- Impasse (no settlement at all).
Of the four outcomes, some settlement is typically better than no settlement. Taking time to investigate a resolution before coming back to mediation commonly results in a creative and positive outcome. The results are specific to your situation, but the outcome of mediation will fall into one of these four categories.
Being prepared for mediation means coming to the table ready to openly communicate your concerns, goals, ideas, interests, and needs while also being willing to listen to those of your soon-to-be-ex. Mediation is simply a tool to help parties communicate when communication seems impossible. And, with communication, even the most opposed sides can find cooperation during a divorce.
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