The answer, as with so many legal questions, is “it depends.” It depends on how you and your spouse want your divorce to proceed. You are the only two people who can control the process you use to resolve the financial and personal issues involved in your divorce situation.
In every divorce, the following will occur: 1) the court will issue a divorce decree stating that you are no longer legally married; 2) if you have marital assets and/or debts, they will be divided between you in some manner; 3) if either spouse needs financial help, that support situation will be determined; and 4) if you have children, your parenting arrangements will be decided. The really big question is how you will make those decisions or whether you will have someone else make those decisions for you.
If you and your spouse agree that you want to handle the decisions involved in your divorce privately, respectfully and without someone else imposing outcomes on you, nothing can stop you from doing so. Your friends, family members, co-workers may have their opinions and you can listen to them if you wish, but they can’t force you to handle your divorce in a certain way. The court system is always happy to have couples make decisions privately because that means one less case for the courts to address.
Your attorney may recommend handling things differently and unless he or she has some sound reasoning to explain why it would be in your best interest and the best interest of your family, you may want to talk with a different attorney to get a second opinion. Second opinions are great, especially if the advice you’re getting just doesn’t feel right or make sense to you.
If you and/or your spouse believe that pursuing litigation and handing the decisions regarding your divorce to someone else is a good idea, then you will end up dealing with the court system. Unfortunately, both spouses must agree to make decisions privately and it only takes one spouse to insist on using the court system. Within the court system, you may have the opportunity to resolve conflicts by agreement along the way, but that is not the primary purpose of litigation. After experiencing the litigation process, you and your spouse may change your minds about whether it’s the best way to resolve your conflicts. It’s (almost) never too late to change course and focus on cooperative problem-solving instead of trying to prove that you’re right and he or she is wrong.
It is worth the time and effort to discuss with your spouse how you want to approach making decisions in the divorce process. You can even have your attorney initiate that conversation with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney. Making a conscious decision about your approach to the divorce process can save you and your family tremendous amounts of financial and personal resources in the long run.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss how your divorce will proceed or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.