FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT DIVORCE WITHOUT COURT:
DO MY EX AND I HAVE TO BE AMICABLE TO FILE AN UNCONTESTED DIVORCE?
No, of course not. It's very rare for both parties to feel completely amicable in a divorce. And it's not necessary for an uncontested divorce. You both need to be willing to sign the same court paperwork - this is how you avoid the increased requirements and paperwork in a contested divorce. But when you first start, you don't need to feel completely amicable, or agree on every issue.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN UNCONTESTED DIVORCE AND A REGULAR DIVORCE?
An uncontested divorce uses most of the same forms as a regular divorce. But a regular divorce requires much more paperwork. For example, in an uncontested divorce, both parties sign the same petition before filing it with the court. In a contested divorce, one person signs the petition, then pays a company (or asks a friend) to “serve” the other person with a copy of the paperwork. This service requires another round of paperwork to be filed with the court in order to prove that both parties have a copy of the petition that the first party filed. Then the second person has to file a response to the petition before the court's deadline. The second person's response also has to be “served” to the first person, and that paperwork to prove it to the court has to be filed with the court as well. All of this takes time and, usually, money (if you're paying a divorce lawyer).
In an uncontested divorce, both people save time and hassle. They each review the same paperwork and verify the paperwork for the court with their signature. Then the couple completing an uncontested divorce will file one divorce form together, instead of three forms separately. In a contested divorce, the court's verification process requires three rounds of paperwork to accomplish the same thing that a couple completing an uncontested divorce can finish with a single signature on the right form.
WHY DON'T OTHER ATTORNEYS OFFER THE SAME SERVICES?
Mediators are neutral. Attorneys get paid for paperwork and conflict. Every extra filing is something an attorney can bill. Most people going through a divorce will pay at least a few thousand each month until their divorce is over. Most attorneys require a "retainer" and they bill hourly, subtracting the fees for the time spent answering emails, scheduling with the court clerk, and reading information that you've sent. Mediators work differently. There's no extra fees if you take longer to settle. We don't want extra paperwork. Mediators keep things calm and work to be fair to both sides. No one can "win" a mediation. (No one really wins a court case either - at best you don't get stuck with something you hate - but that's another story). Mediation is successful when you both understand your options and agree on the best way to move forward. It's a completely different process than divorce stories you've probably heard from friends and family members. Mediators are neutral and mediation is only about finding information and problem solving. How much can you each borrow? How do you get one parent off the mortgage so the other parent can keep the house where the children have been raised, to allow some stability during the transition? What visitation schedule works around your child's bedtime routine? These are all questions that won't be addressed in court. Mediators focus on working out the details that lawyers ignore, so that you can move forward.
HOW DO WE KNOW YOU'RE RIGHT? CAN WE TRUST YOUR ADVICE
A lot of attorneys will rely on their experience, or judgement, and tell you to just trust them. We focus on giving you the tools to make your own decision, however. We give you the background information and the source for all our advice. For example, the handbook for Family Law Judges is here and the handbook for Domestic Violence cases is here. These and other resources, including the relevant rules and case law, are always available through our firm. We're only trying to help you decide for yourself what you need. We don't need to hide the ball to do that - we can just give you the information. Our experience does play a role, however. The information available can be overwhelming. And it's easy to miss the forest for the trees. People without a background in law don't realize how the rules intersect. For example, the child support formula found here is NOT the entire transfer payment that will be set by FL Form 130. A person who reads the rules can easily miss that intersection. We can help you fill in all the areas where you "don't know what you don't know."
COULD WE JUST FILL OUT THE DIVORCE FORMS OURSELVES?
Sure. If you have no assets, you agree on everything, and you're confident that any future paperwork snafus can be handled amicably, then there's no reason to involve a lawyer or a mediator. Fill out court forms FL 201, 231, 241, 140, 130 (if you have children), a support worksheet, a confidential information form, and a vital statistics record for the court clerk. The forms are free and the directions are online here.
Most people who are getting divorced aren't able to do this effectively, however. For example, if you're selling a house and dividing the money, what would happen if one person lost their job and then wanted to keep more than the agreed on amount? What would happen if one person became upset about their ex's new boyfriend, and then refused to sign the deed so the house can be sold at the last minute? What would happen if there's a global pandemic and the house can't be sold right away? It's easier to set up what you want to do as a list, and then check off each item as you go. Then you can negotiate with each other once, and avoid unnecessary conflict in the future.
Most couples are getting divorce because they don't always handle conflict in an optimal way. It's usually cheaper and faster to hire someone to help with your uncontested divorce. We not only know the forms you need, we know how to help you protect your assets, your credit score, and your financial future.
DOES MEDIATION MEAN WORKING THROUGH OUR ISSUES?
No. Mediators are not therapists. You feel how you feel. You're entitled to want whatever it is that you want. Mediation is a process that lets you both find a path forward from wherever you are. Mediators can't change the past and they can't force you to agree. But they can help you clarify your options, reality test your assumptions, and, if all goes well, finally hear each other's needs. Every relationship that doesn't work is one where your needs aren't being met. The relief you can feel when you finally find a way to let go of the conflict and get at least some of what you need is, frankly, really amazing to watch.
HOW DOES THE DIVORCE MEDIATION PROCESS START?
Usually you both book a time to come in, answer some questions and provide some frameworks beforehand, and then spend an hour or so talking through the issues. The mediator is trained to help you check the boxes you need for the court forms, and to frame the discussion so you can end with a path forward. Most people only need one session, or at the most two. Most people find they feel better if they can start moving forward right away, rather than meeting over and over to talk about the same things.
CAN WE STILL SUE EACH OTHER IN COURT?
Yes. If you disagree on any of the issues in your divorce, you can still always sue each other rather than continue with an uncontested divorce. But any information shared as part of the mediation process is confidential. Nothing you say in mediation can be used against you later. Notes, comments, and emails are all confidential.
I WANT TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT BUT I HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT IS FAIR?
Any money you pay to the other parent is supporting your children. It's normal to be upset and not want to pay more than what feels fair. Most parents also really want their children to be comfortable, and to keep any conflict away from the children. Using a settlement agreement, a lot of people are able to find flexible arrangements that work for both parties. For example, you can work out a monthly payment that is a percentage of income, rather than a flat number, to cover situations where a parent's income fluctuates, or could change without much notice due to the industry, or other considerations that would make a flat-fee payment impractical.