Resolving Family Law Disputes: Alternatives to Court.

AuthorBoyd, John-Paul

November 2, 2018

When adults leave a serious relationship, they have a lot of decisions to make. Sometimes these are small decisions, about who can keep the dishes or the books, but more often they are big decisions. Things like where the children should mostly live, how their time will be divided, who should pay how much in support and whether the family home should be kept or sold. Decisions like these, and a few more besides, all fall under the umbrella of family law.

People are often able to resolve these decisions on their own, but when they can't, they have a problem. Walking away from difficult family law disputes is rarely a good idea, as these disputes involve the most sensitive, most personal and most consequential legal issues there are, and the stakes are usually very, very high.

Assuming you're not going to walk away, there is yet another decision to make. How are you going to handle the legal issues you and your spouse or partner can't resolve on your own?

Most people say that legal disputes are handled in court. That's fair. Court is pretty much the only way you see legal disputes being resolved in the media. You can watch Judge Judy, Divorce Court and The People's Court during the day, lawyer dramas like Suits, Law & Order and Boston Legal in primetime, or The War of the Roses, Kramer vs Kramer and Irreconcilable Differences if you want to go to the theatre. If you'd rather curl up in a reading chair, you can pick up Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer or pretty much anything ever written by John Grisham.

The usual alternatives to court include negotiation, mediation and arbitration. Negotiation is a bargaining process in which the people involved in a legal dispute, the parties, try to find ways they can each compromise and settle their differences. Mediation is a bargaining process in which a neutral third-party, a mediator, helps the parties talk to each other and identify possible solutions. Arbitration is a process in which a neutral third-party, an arbitrator, listens to each party's evidence and arguments, and makes a decision resolving the dispute. Handling disputes in court is called litigation.

Court isn't the only way to handle family law disputes. And, to be frank, it's pretty much the worst way to handle most family law disputes.

Litigation is a complex, formal process in which disputes are resolved by the order of a judge, following a public trial. Litigation is governed by...

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