'Happy Valentine's Day. I Want a Divorce.'

There are no legal answers to emotional issues such as anger, betrayal, sadness and fear. No law has been written that magically determines who should get the kids when or who cares more about that crystal vase in your living room.
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Valentine's Day is approaching -- and it turns out the weeks leading up to this most romantic of holidays also mark the highpoint of "divorce season."

While there's no national database tracking divorce filings, anecdotally, attorneys report that January and February tend to be the busiest months of the year in terms of divorce inquiries.

Why? In large part it's a holiday hangover. A recent poll by my divorce mediation company, showed that one in 12 people (and one in eight women!) are considering divorce during the holidays. And as soon as the holidays are over, many make it their New Year's resolution to begin again and start divorce proceedings.

I've worked in family law for 12 years and without fail, my phone starts ringing off the hook on January 2nd. Most start by asking for the lay of the land -- they want to know their options.

Unfortunately, most people still think of divorce as the 1980s War of the Roses scenario, where each party hires the meanest pitbull of a lawyer they can find, spends thousands of dollars on legal fees and fights it out in court.

But, most of us did not begin our marriage by siccing an attorney on our future spouse, why would we end it this way?

The fact is, for most of us, divorce is not a legal problem. It is a family in transition from one household to two. There are no legal answers to emotional issues such as anger, betrayal, sadness and fear. No law has been written that magically determines who should get the kids when or who cares more about that crystal vase in your living room.

Too often, lawyers hired with this mentality focus on starting legal debates, not finding solutions. These debates can last months, or even years; leaving a judge to decide which lawyer wins. Meanwhile, your family loses.

So before you get caught in a two-lawyer "contest" you should know this:

  • The vast majority of divorce cases (95 percent according to some experts) settle outside of the courtroom.
  • Most litigated divorces will be sent to mediation prior to going before a judge.
  • A moderately complex, yet very typical divorce can easily cost between $25,000 and $50,000.
  • Litigation is public.

With facts like these surrounding the traditional, adversarial divorce, it is no wonder that people are increasingly looking to mediation, collaborative law and Wevorces. Because most divorce cases will ultimately settle out of court, it is just common sense to cut to the chase and choose a forum-focused settlement. These approaches can more easily navigate the legal, financial and emotional issues inherent in every divorce, saving time, money and unnecessary stress on the family.

Consider the findings of a study (PDF) that compared litigated cases to those handled via collaborative law, mediation or other dispute resolution techniques. It found that dispute resolution cases resulted in:

  • Higher client satisfaction regardless of whether or not they reached an agreement.
  • More benefits to the parenting relationship.
  • Significant savings in costs.
  • Settlement within months.
  • More discretion and privacy.

As I write this, I recognize that some people, like actors performing a classic movie script, will fill compelled to choose litigated divorce because "that's the way it's done." And, in cases with domestic violence or mental illness, the protections of that approach may be necessary. But, if you choose litigation over mediation, I hope you will do so with open eyes. Start by asking your prospective attorney three simple questions before handing over your retainer.

  1. How much time will my divorce take?
  2. How much will it cost?
  3. What will my spouse's lawyer say?

If you're not comfortable with the answers, look further. If you are comfortable with the answers, proceed gently and with care.

While divorce is a difficult, emotional roller coaster, there are now alternatives to help families stay intact and allow parents to continue their roles as mom and dad as they let go of being husband and wife.

Even if you feel like you have lost your desire to celebrate Valentine's Day with your spouse, there is value in moving forward with your divorce in the most loving way possible.

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