It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since I went through a divorce, but I still vividly remember how intimidated I was when it came to the divorce process. I knew nothing about how divorce worked. I had never heard the words, “litigation, mediation, statute, decree, or prove-up.”
The divorce process is complicated, lengthy, and stressful. There are many different divorce processes and every divorce process is unique.
Types of divorce processes that I have heard of:
3. Collaborative divorce.
When I got divorced, our divorce process was a combination of litigation and mediation. What I’ve learned since then, and through Divorced Girl Smiling over the past 8 years, is that litigation, in my opinion should be the least desirable way to get divorced. Litigation is the divorce process where attorneys take all the arguments to a judge, and the judge makes all of the decisions for the couple.
Litigation can be lengthy, divisive, stressful, and expensive, and can put a huge strain on the couple’s relationship. It can get combative, competitive and cruel.
For someone who isn’t familiar with the divorce process of litigation, the best way to learn about it is to talk about the judge. Anyone who has ever been through litigation can tell you all about divorce judges: the people who are making life decisions for you if you are in litigation.
Divorce judges are beyond busy. They walk into work every morning and spend their days hearing case after case after case. And this goes on for years and years and years.
Divorce judges have heard it all. Nothing surprises them. They have listened and listened and listened and listened, and in my opinion, many of them just can’t listen anymore. In my opinion, they could get hardened, or possibly burned out.
I’m not trying to paint a negative picture of divorce judges. I have the utmost respect for them, and quite frankly, anyone put in their position would most likely grow tired and weary, and possibly just become immune to a lot of things they hear. It would be almost impossible for a divorce judge to really hear the details and stay fresh for every single case.
What I am saying about judges isn’t personal. They aren’t bad people. Judges are just really busy people, who are hearing countless cases, case after case, and trying to make the most fair decisions they possibly can. But, they don’t know you. They don’t know the details. They don’t know your kids. That’s why mediation/collaborative divorce is more optimal, because YOU have the power to negotiate your own deal.
While in litigation…
A few things can happen. One, (and this actually happened to me,) the judge was out ill—twice!!—and I had to pay my attorney for the trips to court. Two, the judge could side with the person who has the more convincing, more likable attorney. Three, you could walk away with decisions made by the judge that are devastating to you.
Here’s the good news. I can only speak for Illinois, but if you are going through a divorce here, Illinois law states that a couple must go through mediation before going through litigation. What that means is, even if your soon-to-be-ex doesn’t want to go to mediation, Illinois law requires him/her to give it a shot.
What that law hopes to do is to foster the couple’s agreement on issues, so that they can make their own decisions about what they feel comfortable with–in regards to custody, assets and finances, and then present them to their attorneys to write up a decree and present it to the judge to sign off on it and put it into law. That is the optimal solution.
But, the reality is, mediation and/or collaborative divorce doesn’t work for all couples. Couples who are angry, or where one partner has emotional issues or no desire to divorce amicably are not good candidates for mediation/collaborative divorce. In other words, sometimes litigation is the only option for a couple.
So, if you find yourself in the divorce process of litigation, and facing a judge, here are a couple tips:
1. Look professional.
When going to court, dress professionally, be there on time, and be polite. Judges are looking at you and that can help or hurt your case.
2. Choose an attorney you think would be well received by a judge.
When you hire a divorce attorney, you are hiring someone who is representing you, speaking for you, making life-changing decisions for you. Ask yourself, would a judge like this attorney? If not, that is a huge problem. Is the attorney’s style a style that is polite, respectful, likable? This is very important because it could sway a judge’s opinion on your case.
Remember this. Judges don’t give attorneys a lot of time. Your attorney must get right to the point. He or she must choose the important points, the things that you most care about. In divorce court, there isn’t a lot of time for details. I’ve been there, so I know. It might be a rotten thing to say, but it’s true. That’s why therapy is important.
In therapy, you get to talk and vent and get mad and scream and cry and tell your therapist that your ex got a girlfriend 2 minutes after he moved out, or that he is so mean to you and you don’t know why, or that you are really scared about finances, or that you can’t believe this is happening and you wish you could go back in time so you could see the red flags.
A judge isn’t here to hear these things. A judge is here to make decisions for you and your ex and your kids, based on the little information he/she is hearing from the two attorneys. Doesn’t that sound scary? It is. Just remember that if you can avoid litigation, and instead pursue mediation or collaborative divorce, do so. If you can’t, make sure you trust your attorney.
3. Keep on top of your case and get educated.
Make sure that you understand what’s going on in your case and what everything you sign means. In other words, don’t let your attorney say, “Oh, just sign this. It’s fine.” Make him/her explain to you exactly what you are signing and what the legal jargon actually means.
I can speak firsthand about just signing something and when my ex got it, he called me and was very upset, and I had no idea why he was so upset because I didn’t truly understand what I had signed! Knowledge is empowering and will guarantee you a better outcome.