Thinking outside the divorce dispute resolution box

It may be possible to minimize conflict and contention by using an alternative method to resolve divorce-related disputes.

Some of Connecticut's divorcing couples can end their marriages with poise and respect, easily handling any issues that may arise and settling their own affairs without the need for court assistance. Others, though, simply aren't able to come to an agreement on one or more contested matters like child custody, child support, alimony or the division of marital assets and debts. However, with the rate at which first-time marriages end in divorce holding steady at about 50 percent, it simply isn't feasible for each couple to have their disputes settled by a family court judge.

If that were to occur, the court backlog would be enormous; some people could literally die waiting for a divorce. Understanding the scarcity and importance of the state's judicial resources, the Connecticut legislature acted to require that all contested divorce-related issues - with the exception of paternity actions - first go to mediation before they could be brought before a judge (see Connecticut Family Code § 46b-53a).

Learning more about mediation

Mediation works without the influence of a judge responsible for making decisions on behalf of a divorcing couple, but instead by having the couple settle their own disputes with the guidance of a specially trained third-party. In addition to the sense of control that comes with being allowed to reach your own resolution, mediation also offers the benefits of privacy (mediations are outside the court system, so the information brought to light in mediation doesn't have to become part of the public court record), quicker proceedings, a non-adversarial approach and a less-expensive solution.

Mediation techniques are "tried and true," and have proven ideal for many family-related legal disputes, which is likely why the Connecticut legislature reasoned that the intervention of mediators could have a positive impact on countless families.

The new "kid" on the proverbial divorce dispute block

In recent years, another out-of-court method for resolving divorce-related disputes has taken hold in Connecticut: collaborative law. If mediation isn't right for your particular family situation, it is possible that collaborative law might be. Collaborative divorce involves the parties each being represented by their own attorneys and seeking the guidance of a panel of experts to reach equitable, workable resolutions.

Experts commonly associated with collaborative divorce include financial planners, accountants, psychologists/therapists, child advocates, health care providers or representatives (if someone involved has a disability or special needs that need to be taken into account when making property division and custody arrangements) and others as appropriate. Like mediation, collaborative divorce encourages respect, cooperation and civility while still generally being faster and less expensive than traditional litigation.

Making the right choices for you

Only you can decide which dispute resolution method is best for your unique family situation. To learn more about the possible benefits of mediation, collaborative law or "old-fashioned" divorce litigation, seek the advice of a family law attorney in your area.

Keywords: divorce, mediation, collaborative law, collaborative divorce