The following alternatives are available as a means of resolving any outstanding issues between you and your spouse:
You may negotiate directly with your spouse. Very often, the most fruitful discussions take place directly between the spouses. It would be best if your spouse were to have obtained independent legal advice before you discuss settlement in depth. If negotiation directly with your spouse were not successful, an alternative would be for the negotiations to take place directly between lawyers for each party.
An alternative form of negotiation is for the parties to attend before a neutral mediator who facilitates settlement discussions directly between the parties. The mediator will encourage settlement options and offer an opinion as to how to resolve the issues. The opinion of the mediator is just that, an opinion, and is no way binding on the parties. It is imperative that both parties have independent legal advice before proceeding to mediation.
If negotiation is not successful, parties may proceed to arbitration. This form of dispute resolution relies on an independent third party who is appointed to settle a dispute by rendering a binding decision. The process is straighter forward and generally less costly than proceeding to litigation. In most cases, there is no appeal from an arbitration award.
The relatively new concept of Collaborative Law involves both parties and their respective lawyers signing an agreement to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement on a principled basis. Further, there is an agreement between the parties involved not to commence litigation proceedings while involved in the collaborative process. If either party files an action in court the collaborative process ends, and both lawyers must stop working for their clients. Thus, new counsel must be retained for the litigation process.
Dispute Resolution Officers
Dispute Resolution Officers are senior family law lawyers who volunteer their time to aid families in achieving settlement. The meetings are conducted informally and clients’ counsel may or may not be present. The purpose of the meeting is to resolve as many issues and possible, and ultimately to achieve settlement. This may be a mandatory step in the litigation process, if child custody is an issue, or if referred to by a Judge; however, parties to an action are welcome to initiate a DRO meeting on their own accord.
Judicial Dispute Resolution:
This form of dispute resolution is conducted with the parties to the action, their lawyers and a Judge present. The Judge hears the facts of the matter and gives an opinion as to how the court will likely rule on the issues at hand. The decision of the Judge is thus only an opinion, and is not binding. The process is completely confidential; any opinions expressed by the Judge cannot be presented in court, should the matter proceed to trial. Again, the purpose of this process is to promote settlement between the parties.