Can I End Up Paying My Spouse's Attorney Fees in a Divorce in California
Daniel Tan | March 1, 2024 | 0 Comments

Choosing Between a Litigated, Mediated, or Collaborative Divorce in California

Divorcing spouses today have many options in California. To assess these various choices, it is important to consider your unique priorities and needs. While one strategy might be effective for one family, a completely different approach may make more sense based on your circumstances. The three main choices in California are collaborative divorce, mediation, and litigation. Each system has its unique pros and cons, and sometimes choosing between them isn’t even possible. To assess these options in more detail, consider a consultation with a qualified divorce lawyer in San Bernardino County.

What is Collaborative Divorce?

The Judicial Branch of California identifies collaborative divorce as a potential method to avoid litigation. In the legal world, “litigation” means a trial that occurs in a courtroom before a judge. Instead, collaborative divorce occurs in private, and it involves negotiations.

Also known as “collaborative law,” this process also involves divorce attorneys. Often, these lawyers have specific training and experience with collaborative law. During negotiations, each spouse is represented by their lawyer. Each side comes together, and with help from their lawyers, they attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement.

The settlement agreement represents the “end goal” of the entire process, and it is essentially a legal contract between both spouses. The contract contains details on how the divorce will be handled, right down to the most minor issues. These issues include child custody, property division, child support, and spousal support (alimony). If spouses cannot agree on every single divorce-related issue, the collaborative divorce process will stall and fail. This highlights the need for cooperation, compromise, and various dispute-resolution strategies employed by collaborative law attorneys.

Many spouses are attracted to the collaborative law process because it saves them time and money. Litigation is expensive and arduous, while spouses can finalize a collaborative divorce within weeks. Staying out of the courtroom also makes divorces more private, and this may be a key concern for certain spouses. Finally, some evidence suggests that children find collaborative divorce easier – and they may feel encouraged to see their parents “working together” instead of fighting it out in court.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is another alternative dispute-resolution strategy, and the Judicial Branch of California considers this a valid choice. Like collaborative law, this process occurs in private – and outside of the courtroom. It also ends with a settlement agreement, and spouses can negotiate on the terms of this agreement.

However, mediation only involves one “mediator” rather than two collaborative law attorneys. As a result, the mediator attempts to achieve the best possible result for both spouses while taking into account their mutual best interests. The mediator might also take into account the best interests of any children in the marriage. Because the mediator is the only person “leading” these negotiations, they must remain free from bias at all times. Mediation offers many of the same cost-saving and time-saving benefits as collaborative divorce.

It is worth mentioning that in many cases, mediation is mandatory for spouses in California. According to family courts, parents must undergo some kind of mediation process if there is a dispute over child custody. This process must be attempted before the parents may proceed with litigation. However, a successful mediation is not necessary – and parents only need to attempt this process before proceeding to a trial.

What is a Litigated Divorce?

A litigated divorce occurs in a courtroom, and this process is overseen by a family court judge in California. Each spouse will have a chance to tell their side of the story, present evidence, make claims, and push back against any allegations made against them. Each parent may also be represented by their own divorce lawyer during this process. At the end of the litigated divorce, the judge will make a decision and order the spouses to end their marriage in a certain way.

These orders vary depending on the nature of the dispute. If parents disagree about everything in their divorce, the judge might order them to:

  • Sell the property and split the cash proceeds
  • Adhere to a certain parenting schedule
  • Make joint parenting decisions in the future
  • Pay a certain amount of alimony each month
  • Pay a certain amount of child support each month

These court orders are legally binding, and spouses must obey them. However, appeals are possible. In addition, a spouse may seek to modify a court order at a later date if a change in circumstances occurs. For example, a spouse might try to modify a custody order if a parent moves out of California. A spouse might also try to stop paying alimony after retiring.

Again, spouses might be forced to choose this option even if they would rather pursue collaborative divorce or mediation. If one spouse wants a litigated divorce, the other must comply (assuming that mandatory mediation has already been attempted). Alternative dispute-resolution strategies are only possible if both spouses are willing to try them. If both spouses want to engage in these strategies and the process still fails, they also have no other choice but to proceed with litigation.

Which Divorce Option Should I Choose in California?

The most appropriate option depends entirely on your situation. If you and your spouse want to save money and time, mediation or collaborative divorce can help you achieve these goals. If you want to keep your divorce private, these alternative options might also be beneficial. However, neither strategy is realistic if negotiation with your spouse seems impossible.

You might also consider litigated divorce if you have serious allegations you wish to voice in court. For example, your spouse might have committed various acts of violence, abuse, or neglect during the marriage. Perhaps your spouse is struggling with serious levels of substance abuse, and you are concerned for your child’s safety. In these situations, it could be advantageous to explore these allegations in court.

Find an Experienced Divorce Attorney in San Bernardino County

If you have been searching for a divorce lawyer in San Bernardino County, look no further than Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP. We know that approaching divorce in California is not always easy, especially with so many options to choose from. The most appropriate approach depends entirely on your unique circumstances, and it is best to discuss your needs alongside an attorney before moving forward. Reach out today to begin the discussion.

Daniel Tan

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