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IN WISCONSIN, A COUPLE CAN DIVORCE IN 4 VERY DIFFERENT WAYS:
Pro Se - which means "do-it yourself", often using freely available forms, or
Mediate - using a neutral 3rd party trained in mediation, or
Litigate - which means filing a lawsuit against your spouse; "go to court", or
Collaborative - a recognized alternative dispute resolution process
Let's review each of the four:
Pro Se, or the Do It Yourself approach is actually the most common method. A couple decides how to end the marriage, divide assets and liabilities, and files for divorce using forms from free sources. Often done without any legal or financial expertise, it may be a workable solution in a marriage with no assets or children, for example. Pro Se therefore is:
Easy to do with generic forms & materials,
A workable approach in a few situations
However, do it yourself actions very often involve situations in which one or both parties petition the court to fix errors or bad judgements taken in the approach - this is referred to as "post judgement" complications. Correcting the mistakes may be difficult, contentious and expensive.
Mediation involves an independent, neutral third party trained in dispute resolution to help you and your partner resolve issues and craft your own agreement, which is then presented to the family court. There are several important considerations with respect to mediation, foremost is that the mediator may not give legal advice, even if the mediator is an attorney. A Mediator does not have to be an attorney; in fact in Wisconsin there are no licensing or certification requirements for a person to be a mediator.
Also the Mediator does not "solve" your differences or even provide opinions - the Mediator is trained to help you find your solutions. Advantages of mediation are:
Mediation avoids court, until your reach a mutual solution;
The Mediator is an impartial third party;
You set the pace of the mediation, although costs are usually on a per hour basis.
Because mediators may not provide legal advice, any agreement should be reviewed by each party's attorney. A court is not required to accept your agreement.
Litigation is type of divorce often portrayed in the media - you "go to court" to ask a judge to declare the marriage over. Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means neither spouse must prove that the other has done anything wrong, and only one spouse must testify under oath that he or she believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken, that is, there is no chance for reconciliation.
The issues in litigation, like other forms of divorce, involve the division of assets and liabilities and support. When there are disputes that the parties cannot reconcile, the court will make the decision. Litigation is often confrontational, costly, and emotionally challenging. Litigation therefore is:
Conducted in open court, i.e. not private
At a pace and schedule set by the Court not the parties
A system in which disputes are decided by the Court
Collaborative divorce is a method in which the divorcing parties work with their attorneys as a team to resolve issues and develop a solution for the future. The process is not "easier" or "faster" or necessarily "cheaper", although there is evidence that costs are lower than litigation. The Collaborative team uses experts to help the couple deal with legal, financial, and emotional issues as well as create solutions such as parenting plans that are unique to their situation. The advantages of Collaborative are:
The team - the couple - set the pace and resolve issues outside of court;
Everyone's needs are considered;
The participation of coach/child specialists to help with emotional issues and parenting plans;
A single neutral financial expert to guides the couple towards a common understanding what is the current
financial situation and what is possible;
The attorneys are legal guides and work toward a solution rather than being confrontational.