There are a number of different options available to you to try to resolve your issues with your spouse: 1) Collaborative Divorce; 2) Mediation; 3) Direct Negotiation; and 4) Litigation. In many cases, you may use a hybrid or combination of the different processes.
Collaborative Divorce is a relatively new process which offers an alternative to litigation. The hallmark of collaborative divorce is a participation agreement signed by both spouses and their attorneys that includes a commitment not to litigate any matters between the parties. If either spouse violates this agreement by filing in court, his or her attorney must withdraw from representing that party. This is a powerful incentive to keep both spouses committed to resolving their issues in the collaborative process. The collaborative process is all about creating your own solutions and developing an agreement that allows both spouses to have their concerns addressed and their needs met. The collaborative divorce process is particularly well suited to spouses who will continue to co-parent minor children or be involved in their grown children's lives after their divorce.
Mediation is a process which allows you and your spouse to meet with a neutral third party (the Mediator), who is trained in facilitating negotiations between divorcing spouses. A mediator cannot provide you with legal advice. If you want to participate in mediation with your spouse, you need to have a divorce lawyer who can advise you about your rights and interests and help you decide what to seek and agree to in mediation. Your attorney can attend mediation if both parties and the mediator agree to have attorneys participate, but it is more common in traditional mediation that attorneys only participate behind the scenes. This lack of advocacy and representation in the meetings with your spouse can sometimes be a disadvantage, particularly if you feel like your spouse will pressure you or take advantage of you. Mediation is a great option if you and your spouse have some level of basic trust and are able to work together, but simply don't want to remain married.
Once you hire your attorney, it is possible to enter into direct negotiations. Generally your attorney will send a letter to your spouse, or his or her counsel if the spouse is already represented, and request to exchange information and begin negotiations. The letter will provide a deadline for a response. Other options to move the process forward may be discussed, if a positive response to the letter is not received. Often direct negotiations will advance and progress to a four way settlement meeting with both spouses participating with their attorneys. The goal is to leave such a four way settlement meeting with a signed agreement resolving all issues.
Litigation is the most expensive way to resolve your case. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to litigate part or all of your case. Sometimes, in order to bring your spouse to the table to negotiate, you have to file your divorce complaint and schedule a preliminary hearing. Often you will need to have a preliminary order for support or exclusive use of the home in place before you can safely and comfortably pursue negotiations. Even where litigation is necessary, throughout the litigation process, the ultimate goal is to reach a resolution of the issues and stop the bleeding.