Alternative Dispute Resolution in Divorce

Mediation or arbitration?

Sometimes a Georgia divorce case just can’t be settled by the parties. This happens for a variety of reasons. One spouse is too angry over infidelity or other marital misconduct. One wants more money for child support or alimony than the other is willing to pay. Or the spouses just don’t get along, which is often the case in divorce.

Judges settle cases every day but divorcing couples and others involved in legal disputes have two other options. Mediation and arbitration are often confused and thought of as the same procedure. But the two methods of settling Georgia divorces outside of the courtroom are different.

Mediation

Mediation involves a neutral third party who sits down with the two sides and perhaps their attorneys to settle outstanding issues. In Georgia, mediators do not have to be attorneys although some attorneys offer mediation services. Some couples try a mediator first before filing for divorce. In contested cases courts will order a couple to seek mediation before a final hearing can be set.

Tips for successful mediation

  • Bring any documents including tax returns, financial accounts including credit card debt and savings, school records if there are children and appraisal of any valuables you share. Basically, if you think there will be a dispute, bring any documents to support your claim.
  • You probably have a lot to say, especially if you did not want the divorce. By listening to your soon-to-be former spouse, you may learn what lead to the marital break-up (if there was no violence or infidelity).
  • Be concise. Rambling on about an incident that happened a decade ago is just wasting time. Stick to the issues on the table.
  • Be open-minded. No one wins in a divorce. Each spouse gives up something—assets, time with the kids, security. Understand you must compromise. If you don’t, a judge—likely a total stranger—will divide up the life you once shared with your spouse.

Remember, the mediator will not be making the decision for you or your former spouse. He or she will be guiding you to a resolution decided by both of you.

Mediation is non-binding in Georgia. The judge must agree to the agreement decided between the two parties and make an official part of the court record.

Mediation is more commonly used than arbitration in divorce cases.

Arbitration

Unlike mediation, arbitration is decided by one person or a panel. The rules resemble a mini-trial where both sides present their evidence. Arbitration allows soon-to-be ex-spouses to have their case decided by a third party without a public trial.

Spouses do not negotiate with each other during the proceedings and usually are represented by their attorneys. Again, the decision is non-binding. Either party can decide not to accept the arbitrator’s decision and go to trial.

Why are alternative dispute resolutions popular?

Couples seek mediation or arbitration for many reasons. Often the deciding factor is money. While a mediator does require a fee, couples pay less than they would in court cost and attorney’s fees if the case is decided in court. Court calendars, especially in small circuits, are often crowded. Mediation or arbitration can save time by agreeing to a resolution out of court. And finally, many families want to keep their “dirty laundry” from being aired in a public courtroom.

You can find out more about mediation and arbitration for your Georgia divorce here.

 

 

 

Online Legal

Are online legal forms worth it?

Shortly after the world discovered it was possible to do all their Christmas shopping in their pajamas without leaving the house, online legal assistance websites sprouted on the Internet. The owners of these sites—and some are famous attorneys—claim you didn’t need a local attorney to write your will, settle your estate or even get a Georgia divorce. You just fill out some forms and file it in court and you are done, according to these sites.

While the need to save money is understandable, are you really saving money using online legal forms? This question is explored in articles by the Today Show, MarketWatch and CBS. The conclusions are mixed. Here are some points to consider:

Are the forms applicable to your state and updated?

The 50 states have different laws and procedures and each county in the state may have different procedures. Often the generic forms online have changed. Be aware that forms also vary from county to county. Local attorneys keep up with the rules and procedures of the court.

Are you filling out the forms properly?

This is a challenge for court clerks across the country. Even some lawyers will make a mistake in a filing from time to time. If you chose to use an online legal assistance website, take time to fill out the form correctly and completely.

What happens when you get in over your head?

Georgia divorces that involve custody disputes or alimony are not settled by filling out a legal document and filing it in court. This is also true for other cases such as settling estates or pleading guilty to a crime. Some of the online legal assistance websites refer you to an attorney for a fee. Ask the attorney if he she is familiar with the local legal rules. Does he or she know the judges and other judges? Will he or she take the time to get to know you and your case?

Want free forms?

Yes, you can get some forms without spending any money. Many courts include forms on their website you can download and fill out. Keep in mind that complicated legal matters cannot be solved by filling out a form and sending it in to the clerk of court. Also, some legal forms such as leases or contracts are not found on these sites.

Hiring a local attorney

Legal matters are not the same as buying your nephew’s favorite toy online for his birthday. Before you click on that cart for a will or estate plan, consider the mistakes you can make with do-it-yourself legal planning. Local attorneys meet with you one-on-one, handle all the paperwork for court and are with you in the courtroom when you appear before the judge. Can you get all this from an online legal assistance website?

 

Co-Parenting

Jane and John are in the middle of a bitter divorce and custody. While they would rather not be in the same room with each other, the soon-to-be former couple are still co-parents of their two young children. Custody disputes in Georgia divorces require a parenting plan. Ideally, this plan will be worked out between the parents and includes several factors.

Scheduling

Before a schedule is made, the decision of custody will have to be decided. If parents cannot agree, a judge will decide. The arrangements can include:

  • Joint legal custody. Both parents are responsible for the child’s well-being. This includes decisions on health care, religion and education. Joint legal custody can include an agreement about physical custody. Parents can agree that the child will spend equal time with each parent.
  • Sole custody: One parent will have the right to make all the decisions about the child and the child will reside with the parent. Visitation rights are given to the noncustodial parent. Information about the child’s school, extracurricular activities and religious activities could also be limited.

Once custody is decided, the challenge is to create a schedule for vacations, holidays and weekends. This can be one of the most acrimonious parts of the plan, especially if both parents are fighting for certain holidays.

Exchanging custody

Some parents are fine with dropping off the child at their former spouse’s residence. But parents who are bitter or angry may have a difficult time seeing their former partner. In this situation, custody exchanges should happen in a public place. Many law enforcement agencies and social service organizations have designated safe places for custody exchanges.

Supervised visitation

A judge may order supervised visitation in some situations that include:

  • A history of domestic violence against the spouse or the children
  • A history of drug use
  • A history of mental instability
  • A criminal history

If supervised visitation is needed, several issues will have to be decided.

  • Who will supervise? Sometimes a judge will allow a family member or friend to oversee the visitation. If no one is acceptable to the court, many social services agencies have staff that provide court-ordered supervision.
  • How often will the visitation occur? This will be decided by several factors. If the parent is undergoing drug treatment or is incarcerated, visitation may be denied or limited until the parent is released. Some social service agencies have rooms set up for supervised visitation.

Contact with the child

Technology enables non-custodial parents to have multiple ways to have contact with their children. FaceTime, Skype, email and the old-fashioned phone call can help the parent and child keep in touch. Some custodial parents are okay with allowing the other parent to have unlimited contact. In some cases, phone calls and other contact may be scheduled.

How is a parenting plan decided?

Ideally, parents will be able to sit down and work out a plan that is in the best interest of the child. But sometimes the parents cannot agree on holidays, visitation and decisions. Parents have three options if they cannot reach an agreement.

  • Mediation involves a neutral third party who sits down with the parents to help them negotiate the parenting plan. Decisions made in mediation are not binding.
  • Arbitration involves a neutral third party who not only helps them negotiate, but who settles the disputes in the parenting plan. The decisions are binding if the judge approves.
  • If all else fails, a judge will make the final decision on the parenting plan.

Divorce is never the child’s fault. A parenting plan should focus on the child’s best interest, which is to have a stable, loving relationship with both parents.

Why do we co-parent?

Well the answer is never simple but as one parent put it:

“Co-parenting. Some say it’s so hard, but for us, we just make the best of it. Like spending two hours at the ball field on Sunday so your dad and step dad can help you with hitting. People always say ‘I don’t know how y’all do it. Y’all co-parent so well!’ My question is, how do you not do it?? We do it because of one word. B. We all 4 put him first. I mean, is that not what parents do? Once you have a kid, their best interest should always be your number one priority. We all 4 love him and we all 4 understand that our relationship with one another affects him directly. It’s not always easy and sometimes we disagree, but I would not have it any other way. I’m so thankful that he has a step mom and step dad that love him just as much as his mommy and daddy do. He’s one lucky little dude & we are pretty lucky ourselves.”

C.O.