Four Different Ways to Get a Divorce—What's Right for You?

It's no secret that getting a divorce can be complicated. If you're thinking about dissolving your marriage, understanding the different options available to you is important. Today, we're covering four of the most popular ways to get a divorce: Through mediation, collaborative law, or by filing for a contested or uncontested divorce. By the end of this article, you should have an idea of how you want to move forward with the dissolution of your marriage.

At Family Law San Diego, we'll help you choose the perfect method for your divorce, working with you to pursue your best interests and protect your rights throughout the process.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (619) 577-4900.

Option #1: Mediation

During mediation, two parties work with a neutral third party (the mediator) to compromise on terms for the divorce and agree on how to handle divorce-related processes such as spousal support and property division.

It's important to note that the mediator cannot give either party legal advice—to obtain legal counsel during mediation, you must hire an attorney.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of mediation is the level of control it gives you over the divorce process.

If you choose to pursue a contested divorce in court, you could end up in a situation where the court decides on terms for processes like property division, effectively taking the matter out of your hands. Allowing a court to determine the terms of your divorce can be frustrating since the judge may make decisions you don't believe are fair or well-thought-out.

Courts often agree that most spouses know their best interests better than the court does, which is why many family law courts require spouses to engage in mediation before continuing to pursue a divorce in court.

Since you negotiate the terms for your divorce in mediation, you have more agency over the process and direct control over how your divorce turns out. Understanding how to negotiate effectively with your soon-to-be-ex during mediation can lead to far more favorable results than pursuing a divorce in court.

Additionally, mediation has several other benefits:

  • It's cost-effective. Mediation happens out of court, often making it thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than pursuing a divorce in court.
  • It's faster. Mediation typically occurs over one or just a few sessions, meaning you can resolve your divorce quickly.
  • It's more amicable. If you want to remain on good terms with your spouse post-divorce, mediation can help you achieve that goal. Mediation relies on good-faith collaboration between spouses, which often makes it friendlier than an in-court divorce where spouses may be more predisposed to "get back" at one another.

Option #2: Collaborative Divorce

To put it in simple terms, you can think of collaborative divorce as a "heavy-duty" alternative to mediation. Collaborative divorce also occurs out of court and relies on both parties engaging in good faith negotiations to determine terms for the divorce.

However, in a collaborative divorce, there is no mediator. Instead, each party hires an attorney. Those attorneys and the spouses then hold a series of meetings to discuss terms for divorce-related processes.

Collaborative divorce tends to be more in-depth than mediation. It's not uncommon for lawyers to bring in third-party professionals during negotiations. For example, during property division, your lawyer may bring in a certified public accountant (CPA) specializing in asset evaluation to help you determine the value of your property and pursue an equitable outcome in your property division case.

Like mediation, getting a collaborative divorce is often much cheaper than pursuing a divorce in court. However, since collaborative divorce tends to take longer than mediation, it is usually more expensive than mediating the dissolution of your marriage.

You may want to choose collaborative divorce instead of mediation if you:

  • Want to feel more protected. Having an attorney by your side handling negotiations for you can be helpful.
  • Need more time to decide what you want. Collaborative divorce gives you a little more time than mediation to figure out how you want to handle divorce-related processes.
  • Still want to remain friendly with your spouse. Like mediation, collaborative divorce is useful if you want to maintain a good relationship with your spouse post-divorce.

Option #3: Uncontested Divorce

If you and your partner agree on terms for your divorce, you can file for an uncontested divorce. It's not uncommon for divorces to start as contested and then transition into an uncontested divorce once the parties have more time to negotiate terms for the divorce.

Filing for an uncontested divorce is relatively simple:

  • One party must file for an uncontested divorce with the court by filing Petition FL-100 and Summon FL-100 forms with their county family law court. As part of these forms, the petitioner also includes a proposed divorce agreement with terms for the divorce (in an uncontested divorce, both parties should agree on these terms before filing).
  • After filing the petition, the "petitioner" (the person filing for divorce) must serve the "respondent" (the other party) with a notice of the divorce. The respondent has 30 days to respond. If they fail to respond within that timeframe, the petitioner can pursue a default judgment to finalize the divorce without the respondent being present.
  • After the respondent has been served, both parties must disclose their financial information to the court. This process helps ensure that the division of marital assets and liabilities is equitable for both parties.
  • Once the financial disclosures are completed, the parties must sign a Marital Settlement Agreement. The Marital Settlement Agreement contains terms for the divorce.
  • The judge will examine the Marital Settlement Agreement to ensure it's legally sound and equitable. Once the agreement has the judge's seal of approval they will sign it, finalizing the divorce.

If you and your spouse agree on terms for the divorce and don't need to engage in the negotiations that come with mediation or collaborative divorce, uncontested divorce is a good option.

As a caveat, even if you agree with your spouse on terms for the divorce without needing extensive negotiations, you should still speak with a lawyer before attempting to file for divorce. The terms of your divorce can affect your life for years or even decades post-divorce, so consulting a professional throughout the process to ensure you make good long-term decisions is crucial.

Option #4: Contested Divorce

If you and your party disagree on terms for the divorce even after attempting to negotiate using a method of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as mediation or collaborative divorce, you can file for a contested divorce.

Filing for a contested divorce initially looks similar to filing for an uncontested divorce, until the respondent is served. Once the respondent is served, they can file a response stating they disagree with the terms for the divorce proposed by the petitioner. At this stage, both parties must engage in additional steps:

  • Mediation (or another form of ADR). If the parties have not yet attempted to settle their differences through negotiating, the court may ask them to do so.
  • Temporary order hearings. The court will hold temporary order meetings to determine how the spouses handle things like property division and child custody while the divorce is ongoing.
  • Divorce trial. If the parties cannot agree on terms for the divorce, the court will hold a trial. During the trial, each party's lawyer has the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence supporting their client's position. The court will hear these arguments.
  • Court-ordered divorce decree. After the trial, the court will decide terms for any divorce-related processes the parties can't compromise on. The court will then issue and sign a court-ordered divorce decree, finalizing the divorce.

In many cases, filing for a contested divorce is seen as a worst-case scenario, but that's not always accurate. Filing for a contested divorce gives you a certain level of protection other options don't. If something like domestic violence plays a role in the divorce or one party tries to strong-arm the other, filing for a contested divorce can help the vulnerable party achieve a more equitable outcome through the court's protection.

The Important of an Attorney at Your Side

No matter how you choose to handle your divorce, working with an experienced attorney is vital. A good lawyer will help you protect your rights and pursue the best possible outcome in your case, ensuring that you can use your divorce as a springboard into a happier, healthier life.

At Family Law San Diego, we'll do whatever it takes to help you navigate your divorce with confidence.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (619) 577-4900.