1. The Kitchen Table
You and your spouse negotiate all of the issues with one another before either of you files with the court. Often, when all of the agreements have been reached at “the kitchen table,” one of you hires an attorney (who represents only that person) to prepare the required documentation for filing with the court. It is possible, however, to file the divorce yourself without an attorney. While we do not recommend that you file yourself, many courts, including St. Louis County in Missouri, have forms available online to obtain a divorce. This option is best suited for couples who have a high level of trust and minimal interpersonal conflict, and where both spouses fully understand the finances and property.
Quick and inexpensive
No professional advice from an attorney (or only one spouse obtains professional advice) regarding legal rights and options; no formal method of information-gathering (“discovery”) to ensure your spouse is being honest with financial information
You and your spouse have a series of meetings with a trained mediator (who is also a family law attorney), who does not represent either of you, to negotiate and reach agreements in your case. The mediator’s role is to advise you of the law, facilitate negotiations, help generate options, draft the final Separation Agreement, and, if you have children, draft the Parenting Plan. Both spouses are advised to consult with their own respective attorneys during the process, but neither is required to do so. This option is best suited for couples who do have disagreements but are committed to resolving them outside of court and need the assistance of an unbiased neutral party to help reach agreements.
No court involvement; structured negotiation process; couple has control over all decisions
Could become costly if you pay a mediator and two attorneys; a spouse that is controlling and/or abusive may take advantage of the other spouse during the process (i.e., there is an imbalance of power); no formal method of discovery
Unfortunately, this is currently the most common choice for divorcing couples. One spouse files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in court. Both spouses hire an attorney. Most often, this is an adversarial process where, if you and your spouse do not agree, the judge makes the final decision after a trial. The attorneys do most of the heavy lifting by preparing the case and arguments, engaging in settlement negotiations, and handling any court motions. This option is most suited for couples who have very low trust in each other and no interest in resolving issues out of court. It is also suited for situations where one spouse has been in control of the finances, as it provides for discovery.
Formal discovery is available (e.g., subpoenas, depositions); temporary motions may be filed (e.g., restraining orders, child support, maintenance)
Often the most expensive option; adversarial couples become more so,
eliminating any chance of a successful co-parenting relationship; a judge, who doesn’t know you or your family, makes all of the decisions for you so you have no control over the outcome;
deadlines and scheduling are based on the court’s schedule, not yours
4. Collaborative Practice
The couple and collaborative law professionals have a series of meetings in a non-adversarial setting. An attorney specifically trained in Collaborative Law represents each spouse. The couple has the option of retaining other professionals trained in Collaborative Law to assist in the process, including mental health professionals, financial professionals, and a child specialist. This process addresses the legal, financial, and emotional issues of the divorce. The entire team signs agreements to work collaboratively with each other to problem-solve, gather information, and explore options. All agreements are reached before being processed through the court. This option is most suited for couples who are interested in resolving their issues outside of court in a non-adversarial way and for couples interested in the help of trained mental-health and financial professionals.
Uses a team approach to ensure that everyone is working toward resolving the issues in a non-adversarial, respectful manner; couple has the advice of a team of professionals to cover all aspects of divorce: legal, financial, and emotional; couple has control over the outcome of their process; no court involvement; couple learns strategies in communicating and continuing their post-divorce relationship
If an agreement cannot be reached (which is very rare), the couple has to retain two new attorneys and incur more legal fees; may incur higher costs depending on how many professionals are involved; if one spouse is not negotiating in good faith, the process is compromised; no formal method of discovery