Approaching the family court system for a divorce as a father can be incredibly daunting. Historically, family court systems in the US have downplayed the roles of fathers and the importance of fatherly influence in children’s lives, and many US fathers feel inherently disadvantaged in family court proceedings. While attitudes regarding parental roles have shifted significantly in recent years, it is understandable for any father to feel uncertain about their impending divorce, especially regarding custody disputes.

If you are a father preparing for divorce, it’s essential to know what to expect and the potential benefits that alternative dispute resolution could offer. The following are some of the most common questions fathers have about alternative dispute resolution for divorce.

Q: What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

A: When most fathers imagine divorce, they think of emotionally challenging courtroom battles and an uninviting atmosphere. Today, most divorcing couples resolve their divorces outside of court whenever possible. Alternative dispute resolution is essentially a private settlement negotiation for divorce. You and your spouse would meet privately to negotiate divorce terms, and once you have an agreement, you present your settlement to a family court judge for final approval.

Q: What Are My Options for Alternative Dispute Resolution?

A: The two most commonly used forms of alternative dispute resolution are collaborative divorce and mediation. During a collaborative divorce, you and your spouse would meet privately with your respective divorce lawyers to negotiate a settlement. You may not be able to cover every aspect of your divorce this way, but it can save a significant amount of time and money when it comes to settling your divorce. Mediation is similar, but it unfolds through the direction of a mediator, a neutral third party who helps you and your spouse draft your divorce order.

Q: Can I Resolve My Divorce Entirely Privately?

A: Privacy is one of the most attractive aspects of alternative dispute resolution for many divorcing spouses. Unlike litigation in which everything said becomes a public record, your negotiations in alternative dispute resolution are entirely confidential. However, you will not be able to resolve some issues in alternative dispute resolution. For example, if you are divorcing and have children with your spouse, the two of you must have a judge settle custody and child support.

Q: How Long Does Alternative Dispute Resolution Take?

A: Another attractive benefit of alternative dispute resolution is that it will likely take much less time to complete than litigation. You and your spouse can both save a significant amount of time and money on your divorce by taking full advantage of alternative dispute resolution.

Q: Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer for Mediation or Collaborative Divorce?

A: It is technically possible to handle your divorce without legal representation, but this isn’t a good idea. While you may think this would save you money on legal fees, the reality is that you stand to lose much more by attempting to represent yourself in divorce proceedings. The right attorney can not only make the process much easier to understand but also help you secure a much more favorable outcome than you could have managed on your own. Ultimately, it is always worth finding an experienced attorney to represent you no matter how you choose to resolve your divorce.

Q: How Will I Resolve Child Custody in Alternative Dispute Resolution?

A: The family court systems throughout the US have a legal obligation to ensure that any divorce order approved by the court suits the best interests of the children it will affect. If you and your spouse agree to alternative dispute resolution, you cannot expect to reach any firm conclusions regarding child custody. However, the two of you can develop a proposal for a parenting plan. You can negotiate child custody terms that are mutually agreeable, but you must submit this plan to a judge for a final review. The judge may approve it if they deem it suits your children’s best interests, or they may require adjustments. The judge must also rule on child support based on the custody determination you and your spouse reach.

Q: What Happens If We Cannot Resolve All Our Issues in Alternative Dispute Resolution?

A: Many couples use alternative dispute resolution to settle as much as possible in their divorces before moving to litigation. It’s possible to take an “a la carte” approach to alternative dispute resolution, using your chosen resolution method to resolve as much as you can before having a judge settle the rest of your divorce in litigation. Ultimately, even if you and your spouse have trouble agreeing on anything, it is always worth exploring the potential benefits of alternative dispute resolution. Doing so benefits both of you, potentially resulting in significant savings on legal fees and a more expedient divorce overall.

Q: How Do I Prepare for Alternative Dispute Resolution?

A: Your divorce attorney can assist you in preparing for your alternative dispute resolution sessions. You will need to address the same issues covered in litigation, but you have much more control over the process. You will need to gather your financial records and start developing your negotiating positions for the different aspects of your divorce. When it comes to child custody, continue to be present and actively involved in your children’s everyday lives and do your best to effectively co-parent with your soon-to-be ex-spouse.

No matter what your divorce entails, the process will involve some level of legal challenge and emotional stress. It can be difficult to remain objective and focused during your divorce but choosing alternative dispute resolution is a great option. Taking advantage of alternative dispute resolution usually means alleviating the stress of dissolution while also providing yourself more influence over the case outcome. It’s natural for fathers to feel daunted by divorce proceedings, especially when concerned about child custody. Contact an experienced fathers’ rights attorney once you decide to divorce, and your legal team can provide valuable guidance and support during this difficult time.