How Alternative Dispute Resolution Puts You in the Driver’s Seat of Your Divorce

How Alternative Dispute Resolution Puts You in the Driver’s Seat of Your Divorce Sometimes it might feel like you and your ex-spouse or co-parent are worlds apart. It feels like you can’t come to agreement on the day of the week, let alone how your property should be divided, who should raise the children, alimony matters, and handling disputes. When you and your ex cannot resolve certain disputes on your own, presenting your arguments before a Knox County family law judge may be the only way to settle them.

However, this does not have to be your first option. There are many legal, financial, emotional, and practical reasons why it is advisable to try to resolve your differences with your spouse or the co-parent of your child without litigation. A recent ruling by a family law judge in Chicago illustrates one reason why an amicable resolution is often better than relying on court orders.

The New York Daily News reported that a Chicago judge forbade a mother from seeing her 11-year-old son because she was not vaccinated against COVID-19. The judge later reversed his ruling after media attention and public criticism. The mother initially lost her custody rights at a virtual child support hearing. Even though child support hearings focus on the financial needs of the children and the incomes of the parents, the judge asked the mother about her vaccination status. She said that concerns about a prior negative reaction had made her hesitant to get the vaccine.

When the mother inquired why her vaccination status was relevant, the judge said, “I am the judge, and I make the decisions for your case.” After the virtual hearing, contact with her child was limited to video and audio chats. Although she was relieved when the judge reversed the decision, the father filed an emergency motion to block the reversal.

What are the risks with having a family judge decide divorce and custody issues?

This case illustrates one of the many ways trying your case before a family law judge is risky, and why your best course of action is to consult with an experienced Knoxville family lawyer:

  • Family law judges bring their own biases and priorities to every family law case.
  • Judges may exceed the scope of their authority in making their decisions.
  • Some judges are willing to try to work out a settlement in chambers or through the lawyers; however, others just want to hear evidence and arguments and then make as quick and as short a decision as possible.
  • Judges have many cases to hear. Their rulings may depend on how many other cases they have on their schedules and how much time they have to listen to your case.
  • Some family law judges are willing to listen to spouses who are upset. Other judges may jump to the conclusion that if a spouse/parent shows anger, they are overemotional.

In family law cases, judges don’t make mathematical decisions – they make personal decisions. Family law judges are required to make decisions about property division, alimony, child support, and child custody based on specific factors set forth in the respective state laws. For example, in child custody cases, a family law judge should consider the following factors, among others:

  • The ability of the parents to provide their children with food, clothing, education, medical attention, and other necessary care.
  • “The love, affection, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child.”
  • The emotional and physical needs of the children.

There are many different factors to consider for each part of your divorce. Some family law judges may prioritize some factors over others.

How can I avoid litigation during my divorce?

There are several ways a divorce can be resolved without an adversarial trial before a family law judge. A lot depends on what issues need to be resolved (divorce, property division, alimony, child custody, and child support), how long the spouses were married, whether there are minor children, and other factors. Generally, there are three ways to resolve a divorce outside of the courtroom:

  • Negotiation between the lawyers. Here, one spouse’s lawyers work with the other spouse’s lawyers to reach agreement on all family law issues.
  • Mediation. In mediation, a neutral person (usually an experienced family attorney or mediator) works to reach mutual agreement between parties. The mediator schedules sessions where he/she meets with the spouses individually and goes back and forth until an agreement is reached or it is clear that a family law judge needs to decide the disputes.
  • Collaborative divorce. Here, your lawyers work with professionals such as psychologists and financial experts to negotiate a solution to divorce disputes.

The main benefits of alternative dispute resolution are:

  • The spouses/parents control the process.
  • These methods normally take much less time than a full-scale trial, which cuts down on legal expenses.
  • Friendly dispute resolution allows parents to focus on their children instead of their anger. Amicable resolutions also make it easier for ex-spouses to focus on moving forward post-divorce.

At LaFevor & Slaughter, our Knoxville family lawyers represent all types of clients and families. We can help negotiate disputes with parenting plans and divorce settlements and, if necessary, represent you in court. To learn your rights and options for resolving your family law disputes, call our seasoned family lawyers at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.