The litigation model is what most people would call a “traditional” divorce process. The parties and their lawyers assume from the beginning of the case that a judge or jury will hear the case and decide the outcome of the parties’ divorce. The case proceeds according to the law and the rules that apply in the courtroom.
Although almost all family law cases settle before trial, there is always the chance that the couple will need a judge or jury to make decisions for them. Specific, formal procedures for collecting information, called “discovery,” will be served on each party. Information that is not revealed in response to specific discovery requests will not be allowed into evidence if there is a trial, forcing clients to “air their dirty laundry” just in case they need it. And even information that is revealed might not be allowed into evidence — everything must be played by the rules.
Unless the parties reach a settlement, presenting evidence in court and getting a ruling from a judge or jury is the only sure way to complete a litigated divorce. There are deadlines imposed by court rules and orders that are designed to move a case forward. Clients who can’t come to an agreement will have a judgment imposed on them, even if they refuse to participate in the legal process.
Preparing for and going to trial is hard on spouses, and harder on their children. Couples who might end up in court are always on guard and hesitate to make settlement offers or do things they otherwise might do for their spouse for fear that it might hurt their chances of winning at trial. But unlike other litigation between companies or strangers, family law trials rarely produce clear winners and losers. More often than not, neither party gets what they really wanted, despite the extensive time and financial resources they have invested in the process.
Strengths of Litigation
Going through a divorce without a lawyer is a dangerous move. Especially if your spouse has retained an attorney, consider how that attorney knows the ins-and-outs of divorce that non-lawyers generally do not. Additionally, if either one of you is harboring a lot of anger, sadness, or if you are in a fragile state, you’ll be at a disadvantage. Judges are instructed to treat self-represented litigants no different than attorneys — whether you understand divorce law and Texas procedure or not.
- Clients are assured that their rights are recognized according to the law
- Court rules and procedures provide structure and deadlines for how the case proceeds
- Litigation will produce an end to a family law case if the clients can’t come to an agreement
Weaknesses of Litigation
- The discovery process forces clients to air their dirty laundry, putting a strain on post-divorce relationships
- Court orders that affect a family’s future will be imposed on clients by someone who knows very little about them and will probably never see them again
- Because litigation focuses on “winning” rather than on finding solutions to problems, the process of preparing for and going to trial is hard on couples and their children – if possible, a technique like the Kitchen Table Agreement may be a worthier solution.
- A case that goes all the way to trial and judgment will be considerably more expensive than other options, and even cases that settle before trial will have incurred the expense of discovery, and possibly mediation.