Four Hypothetical Scenarios of Beth and Tom’s Amicable Divorce
(Lawyers, No Lawyers, Mediator)
Disclaimer – Hypotheticals only. These are hypotheticals only and do not provide legal advice (or mediation advice). They are simply examples created to give some general information only.
Beth and Tom decided to divorce. They hoped to settle out of court in order to minimize hard feelings plus, they did not want their hard earned money to be spent on fighting in court.
1. Beth Has a Lawyer, Tom Does Not
Beth has a lawyer and Tom does not since he decided to be self-represented (pro se). Beth’s lawyer asked her about divorce related issues, particularly the finances. She informed Beth about divorce related laws in Pennsylvania, including equitable distribution, which is for splitting assets and debts. (In short, this means fair division of the marital estate; this division is not necessarily done on a 50-50 basis. This is a complex subject with many facets and is not in any way detailed here.) She further advised Beth on how the assets and debts might possibly be divided under the law, as well as other issues, and the manner in which Beth might consider settling her case given the circumstances and her wishes.
Beth and Tom later had discussions and agreed on how to settle. Beth gave her lawyer this settlement information, which Tom was confident Beth conveyed accurately. Beth’s lawyer then prepared a well written, detailed Property Settlement Agreement which included the settlement information Beth gave her. The lawyer mailed the Agreement to Tom with a letter including a clear statement that this lawyer represented Beth only and encouraged Tom to get his own attorney. Tom decided he did not want an attorney and properly signed the Agreement. Once Beth did too, they had a legally binding contract.
Although Beth and her lawyer included the parties’ settlement information in the Agreement accurately, Tom may have agreed to certain provisions he did not fully understand because he did not have his own lawyer. If Tom did not want to hire a lawyer to represent him for the entire divorce process, having his own capable attorney for the limited purpose of providing advice as to the Property Settlement Agreement could have been, although not ideal, very helpful.
Beth’s lawyer timely and correctly prepared, and filed with the court, all of the appropriate divorce related documents. The judge therefore signed the divorce decree. Beth and Tom’s divorce was finished in about four to five months from when the first divorce paper (a Complaint) was filed.
2. Beth and Tom Mediated Their Case
Some of Beth and Tom’s communications were tense and they felt they needed some guidance. Hurt feelings rather than realistic divorce case resolutions were at the forefront of the discussions. Beth and Tom had heard about divorce mediation and agreed to give it a try. (See Mediation Services page.)
Beth and Tom met with a well qualified, experienced mediator who explained to Tom he could benefit from having a lawyer. Tom still did not want one. Although there were difficult conversations about the past, the mediator helped them logically and methodically focus on settlement issues. The individual needs of both Beth and Tom were discussed, considered and balanced given their circumstances. The mediator wrote up a brief, factual Memorandum of Understanding outlining how Beth and Tom wished to settle. Although signed by both Tom and Beth, this Memo was not legally binding as stated in the document itself. The Memo not only helped avoid misunderstandings between Beth and Tom, it was very helpful to Beth’s lawyer when she wrote the Property Settlement Agreement (ultimately legally binding).
3. Beth and Tom Each Had Their Own Lawyer
Tom had a lawyer, so he and Beth each had the benefit of legal advice. Fortunately, both of these particular lawyers were settlement oriented. However, although they had lawyers, Beth and Tom were still actively discussing how to settle. They were making progress and felt they did not need a mediator. Talking directly avoided confusion and helped them think through details. Also, the more they could work out, the less time the lawyers spent on the case saving both of them money in legal fees. Once Beth and Tom reached their agreement, they each told their own lawyer. Their lawyers had a few communications during which they confirmed some things and filled in a few gaps. They also discussed who would prepare which documents in order to finish the divorce.
4. Neither Beth or Tom Had a Lawyer
Since there is not a requirement that a lawyer be involved, Beth and Tom decided to obtain a divorce without any lawyers. Without legal advice, they were making decisions without important information that could have influenced how they handled things.
They also wrote their own Property Settlement Agreement using a form. Time would tell whether or this would cause problems if not done correctly. Finally, they filed forms with the court to finish the divorce, but the court declined completion a couple of times due to technical errors before everything was finally done right.
It is possible to complete a divorce and related matters correctly without a lawyer. But it is not necessarily easy and you may not know of certain problems for awhile even if your divorce is over. It can be tricky to figure out even with instructions. Also, different states, and counties in the same state, may have different requirements.