What is Alternative Dispute Resolution in New York Divorces?

For some people, the thought of going through a divorce canbe terrifying. Divorces are emotional experiences, that require a great deal of thought and planning to make sure that you walk out at the other end of the procedure prepared for your future. As a divorce attorney, I know that the last thing many of my clients want to do when they’re dealing with the vulnerability they feel during a divorce case, is to present their argument in front of a New York court. Even if the divorce is amicable, taking the process to court can be an overwhelming, and time-consuming process. That’s why opportunities have emerged that allow people considering divorce to choose other methods of dispute resolution.

Alternative dispute resolution proceedings allow you to resolve the issues that appear during the divorce process, through a series of informal negotiations between spouses. These negotiations can take place in more comfortable office spaces, and may ensure that you never have to step inside of a court room. Eventually, the purpose of an alternative dispute resolution is to allow both parties to come to a voluntary settlement about how they want their divorce to be handled. Here, we’ll take a look at the two most common forms of alternative dispute resolution, both of which I can perform from my office here in Long Island.

Using Divorce Mediation for Alternative Dispute Resolution

Because I’m a certified divorce mediator, if people want to come to me together to have me be a neutral third party to help them try to resolve the issues that need to be agreed upon to get an uncontested divorce.  Just to be clear, when I am the mediator I am not acting as the lawyer for either party.  Although at the conclusion of the mediation, since I am an attorney, I can become the drafting attorney to put together the settlement agreement and uncontested divorce package.  Likewise, when I start off as a client’s lawyer I cannot then jump ships and then become the mediator for the couple.  I could however be that client’s review attorney if they wish to utilize another mediator.

Going back to different alternative dispute resolution options, one of the most popular options is mediation, a voluntary process which involves bringing both parties in a divorce together to discuss their needs regarding things like maintenance, child visitation, equitable distribution, and more. In the past, I’ve found divorce mediation to be one of the least expensive dispute resolution options, and one of the fastest ways to resolve family issues and make arrangements regarding future finances.

Like many forms of alternative dispute resolution, the goal of divorce mediation is for both parts to negotiate over agreements for their future. Often, mediation is particularly appealing for parents who want to maintain a friendly relationship for the sake of their children after a divorce. Mediation is a voluntary process in most cases, however, there are circumstances when a court might order both parties to sit down with a mediator. Of course, court-ordered mediation doesn’t happen very often, as mediation is the most effective when both parties are willing to come together and talk out their differences in a neutral space.

As a mediator, it’s my job to simply support the discussion of crucial terms in a divorce proceeding. I’m not there to take sides or make any suggestions about the agreements that should be made. Like collaborative law – another option for alternative dispute resolution – mediation allows parties in a divorce to retain their decision-making authority about what will happen next after their separation. The parties involved will set the agenda, and control the results of the mediation. My job as a mediator is simply to assist both parties in coming to a solution that they each can live with and is fair to both sides.

The process of mediation can be very appealing to partners who want to avoid the court-room experience, because the process is often very informal and flexible. The idea is to help both parties make decisions that will positively impact their future, and support the best interests of any children involved. Of course, mediation won’t always be the right option for every case, as it will often rely on the willingness of the parties involved to communicate. Because of this, mediation may not be recommended in high-conflict cases.

Using Collaborative Law for Alternative Dispute Resolution

For those who don’t feel entirely comfortable with mediation, and do not want to go the more traditional litigation route, or believe that their situation isn’t appropriate for the mediation process, collaborative law might be the best choice. I like to think of collaborative law as the “halfway” point between litigation and mediation. Collaborative law, like mediation, removes the decision-making process from the court, and asks both parties to retain separate attorneys, who can help them to come to decisions regarding the concerns at hand. Alongside separate attorneys, other collaborative professionals, such as mental health coaches, financial professionals, and child specialists can be enlisted to form a “collaborative team”.

Similarly to mediation, a collaborative process is typically a voluntary experience for both parties. Both of the people involved in the divorce should retain their ability to make decisions about their future throughout the case – something that isn’t possible when matters are left for the courts to decide. Like mediation, collaborative law is also a more informal and flexible process, which can once again be adapted according to the needs of the parties at hand. Perhaps the most significant benefit of collaborative law, is the fact that it allows the parties involved in the divorce to control the outcome of things like equitable distribution agreements, and the sharing of assets.

As with most things in the legal world, the cost of using collaborative law as an alternative dispute resolution method can vary according to things like hourly fees and how much time each party needs to spend with their own attorney. However, because the process is taking place outside of the courtroom, it’s generally more open and flexible, which can mean that it is cheaper than a prolonged litigation. Of course, just like with mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, collaborative law will not be the right option for all situations. Collaborative law typically requires both parties to be able to communicate with each other, so high-conflict cases might be difficult to manage. Collaborative law is a process that involves utilizing a team of professionals that includes collaboratively trained attorneys, and neutrals such as financial professionals (financial neutrals), mental health professionals (divorce coaches), and at times child specialists and more.

To learn more about collaborative law, mediation, and alternative dispute resolution, read through some of my other blog posts, or website pages or feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience. By calling my office on 516-333-6555, or contacting me through my online form, you’ll be able to schedule your free, half-hour initial consultation appointment.

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