At Patterson Moore Butler, we focus our practice on what is best for the client. We often have clients reach out to us who are looking for an uncontested, respectful, collaborative or cooperative divorce. We often hear from parties without attorneys who want us to act as the mediator in their case. We hear all of these terms used interchangeably, however, they can have different legal significance or process.
What is an uncontested divorce?
An uncontested divorce does not reflect the parties’ intent to settle their case amicable, rather it means that by the time they are contacting a lawyer they have settled their legal matter. For an uncontested divorce, an attorney is only drawing up the paperwork for the parties to process the matter through the legal system. An uncontested case involves no negotiation between the parties, however, the parties cannot receive legal advice from the same attorney due to Georgia Bar Rules.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a process whereby the attorney acts as a neutral person to help the parties reach a resolution. Although the mediator is an attorney, he or she cannot give legal advise to either party. In this situation, the mediator works with the parties to find common ground and resolution to their issues so that litigation is not necessary. The goal of a mediation is for the parties to walk away with an agreement.
Mediation is a process that typically every family law case engages in at some point in order to attempt to reach a resolution. Mediation can occur prior to an action being filed or after. If the parties do hire attorneys, most often the attorneys attend the mediation with the clients. If parties elect not to hire counsel, they can attend a mediation without attorneys to reach a resolution. Parties who do not have counsel have the choice of being in the room together or being in separate rooms (called “caucus”) for their mediation.
What Is Cooperative or Respectful Divorce?
Cooperative or respectful divorce is a divorce process which does look at the mutual intent of the parties to reach an amicable result to their divorce without judicial intervention. Both parties enter the process with the reasoned expectation of settlement. Unlike collaborative divorce (see below), in the event that settlement based negotiations break down, court intervention is still allowed in cooperative divorces with each party always having the right to have an attorney at any point in the process. Much like collaborative divorce, cooperative divorce fosters a framework of efficiency and cooperation. Parties are urged to agree on any experts(psychological and/or financial) but are not required to enlist them if they are not needed. Cooperative divorce is a process that fosters the free exchange of information and avoids unnecessary formality whenever possible to reduce conflict and cost.
How Does Collaborative Divorce Compare with Cooperative Divorce?
Collaborative divorce is a specific process whereby the parties agree to move forward following both the steps in the process and as part of a divorce “team”. Typically, the “team” is made up of an attorney for each party, psychologist if children are involved, and a financial professional to assist the professionals and the parties with evaluating financial matters.
In collaborative divorce, the parties cannot go to court until the end of the process which would be for the purpose of finalizing their settlement. In the event one party wants to exit the process in order to seek judicial intervention, all attorneys and professionals must remove themselves from the case and the parties hire new counsel to resolve their matter.
The collaborative divorce process encourages the free flow of information between all parties and professionals and defers heavily to their judgment on what is the best solution for the parties as a whole, not necessarily what either individual party wants to happen.
Does a Cooperative Divorce Cost Less Than a Traditional Divorce?
It is difficult to effectively compare the two processes and we are unaware of any studies that have done so. However, family law processes which have open communication and come from the spirit of resolution, leads to the conclusion that cooperative and respectful divorce processes will be cheaper as the parties are trying to resolve their issue without litigation, without formal burdensome discovery and without hearings and motions in court. In a cooperative or collaborative divorce, a lawyer simply asks for the information that is necessary and it is provided within a reasonable time. . By removing much of the formality of the process, the process becomes more efficient and with efficiency historically comes a reduction in cost.
What is right for me?
If you have questions about which of these processes, or even a contested divorce, is right for you, please contact us for a consult to address your questions and concerns. Please note that regardless of how cooperative a case may be, we can only meet with and give legal advice to one party as per the Georgia Bar Rules for Ethical Conduct. Therefore, please only have one of the parties attend the meeting. Please contact us at (770) 889-0846 or firstname.lastname@example.org schedule a meeting with Ms. Moore-Grant who specializes in cooperative and respectful divorce practices.