Civil Separations: Part 1 – It Pays to Be Civil

Civil Separations: Part 1 – It Pays to Be Civil

If you and your spouse are contemplating a divorce, you probably know separation can be a financial burden.  Separating one household into two adds substantial expenses to the same income pool.  Adding legal expenses on top of increased childcare expenses and/or an additional rent/mortgage payment can make the prospect of separation a full-on financial crisis.  For this reason, you and your spouse both have a vested interest in keeping legal costs down.  Most people believe a trial must take place in order to resolve the issues surrounding separation but that is the most expensive avenue.  Luckily, there are alternatives to litigation available to separating spouses.  These alternatives can help keep costs down if both spouses are willing to work together to reach an agreement.

An added benefit of reaching an agreement outside of court is the amount of power and control you each have over the arrangement.  The two of you have much more control over the outcome if you reach an agreement than you do if you litigate the matter in a trial.  Put simply, once you bring a matter to trial, the judge, not you, has complete control over the outcome.  Additionally, once an order is entered, it will have to be obeyed whether you like the outcome or not.

Below is a list of options to reach a resolution in order from least expensive (and most autonomous) to most expensive (and least autonomous):

  1. Independent Agreement: You and your spouse decide among yourselves how you would: 1) like to separate your assets; 2) what, if any, amount of spousal and child support will be paid, to whom and for how long; and 3) the appropriate custody arrangement. Read the next post in this series here for a list of questions to get you started.  Have legal counsel review the terms and draft the appropriate documentation.  The appropriate documents could include a separation agreement, parenting agreement and/or court orders, it really depends on what works best for your case. An attorney can advise you on this issue.  Note: A North Carolina attorney can only represent and advise one spouse, not both.  If both spouses want to have the terms reviewed, both spouses should have separate counsel.
  2. Hired Negotiations: You and your spouse both hire attorneys to negotiate an agreement on all issues. If you aren’t able to agree on everything, attorneys can help nail down the terms in negotiation though they will bill for however long it takes them to reach an agreement.
  3. Mediation: You and your spouse attend mediation with your attorneys to reach an agreement. Hiring a mediator to spend a day (or more) facilitating an agreement can be expensive but can also be worth it if a settlement is reached.
  4. Collaborative Divorce: You and your spouse participate in the collaborative divorce process. Costs vary with this process.  We’ll cover this option more in-depth in Part 3 of this series.
  5. Litigation: You and your spouse hire attorneys who litigate one or more issues in court. The good news here is that, except for the collaborative divorce process, these options are not mutually exclusive.  Your attorney could file the necessary paperwork to begin the litigation process but you and your spouse could end up settling through your own negotiations, through attorney negotiations or through mediation before the matter ever comes up for trial.


– Read Part 2 of Civil Separations – Questions to Consider

About Bonnie Thompson

Bonnie Thompsonis a solo attorney and has been licensed to practice law in North Carolina since 2013. She enjoys legal writing and research and currently focuses these talents by contracting remote legal services to North Carolina law firms. Her background is in domestic violence victim advocacy. Before transitioning her practice, she represented clients in family and child welfare matters for almost three years.