These days, many divorces are settled outside of a courtroom. There are a number of options for reaching agreements on property division, support and child custody that don't involve presenting your case in court to a judge. These options can save couples time, money and added conflict.
Two popular options are arbitration and mediation. Sometimes, they're lumped together under the umbrella of "alternative dispute resolution," but they're very different processes. Let's take a quick look at both.
This process involves a specially trained arbitrator, who is a neutral third party agreed on by both spouses. The arbitrator makes the final decision about matters in the divorce after listening to both spouses and reviewing the evidence.
Arbitration can be binding or nonbinding. If spouses choose binding arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator is final, and they can't argue the decision in court. In nonbinding arbitration, they can dispute the decision in court. However, a judge will likely give significant weight to the arbitrator's decision -- particularly when it involves children.
In this process, couples work together to craft agreements under the guidance of a mediator who serves as a facilitator. Like an arbitrator, a mediator is a specially trained, neutral third party chosen by the couple. However, they don't make any decisions or even offer opinions. The couple reaches their agreements together.
Both arbitration and mediation have the advantages of privacy. The evidence presented isn't entered into any public record as it would be if it were presented in court. They also allow both spouses to choose the person who will be overseeing the process. Scheduling is usually more flexible than if a couple had to adhere to a court schedule.
If you're considering either or both of these methods for settling your divorce, it may be wise to talk to more than one arbitrator and/or mediator. It's essential that both spouses feel that the person they've chosen is knowledgeable and impartial. It's also important that both people feel comfortable going through this very personal, yet sometimes uncomfortable, process with this professional.