More and more we hear that online legal services and mediation are the answer to give people low conflict divorces. They tout that if you just use their services, there will be no, or little, conflict in your divorce and post-divorce life with your ex-spouse/partner. I disagree; I think this is “putting the cart before the horse.”
I have been litigating divorces and child custody issues for 18 years. Approximately 12 years ago I became trained as a family law mediator and offer this service, when appropriate, to my clients. Because I work in both arenas (litigation and mediation), I can say with confidence that the only way to have a no conflict or low conflict divorce is if the parties involved choose and are committed to a no/low conflict divorce. This means they will choose lawyers and processes which are non-adversarial from the outset. People like to blame lawyers for high conflict divorces and custody matters, and while some lawyers are very good at creating conflict, the fact remains that if parties do not want such conflict, they will not work with lawyers who engage in high conflict strategies.
When one or both of the parties does not want a low conflict divorce, then they will pursue an adversarial process using an adversarial lawyer. This is a conscious decision that affects destiny for themselves and their children. No doubt, high conflict divorces and the court system can cause irreparable damage, but the only way people end up in the court system is because one or both of them chose to fight, to be adversarial and therefore to inflict the damage and carnage that such a toxic process can have on them and their children.
The message of this blog post is essentially, “buyer beware.” There is no guarantee you will have a low conflict divorce or custody matter because you choose to use an online service, a mediator, or for that matter, a low-conflict attorney; rather, the choice of a low conflict divorce must first be made mutually by the parties. This must be a conscious choice by each person about the tone of their divorce and custody matter and their future. Once the parties are in agreement, they will then choose the process and professionals to assist them in carrying out their mutual desire for a low conflict divorce that still protects their individual interests.
The choice belongs to the parties. Make the choice, then choose the process and your professionals.
A final word is necessary if your mutual desire for a low conflict divorce leads you to consider an online service or even a paralegal service. I would again caution, “buyer beware,” as there is no substitute for the personalized, “in person” legal services of a skilled, experienced and knowledgeable lawyer (whether acting as your own counsel or as a mediator) who understands and can guide you through the complexities of your individual situation. Getting a lawyer’s advice is strongly recommended even if you select online or other forms of services as a means to help reach resolution.