If you’re in conflict with your ex and you’re about to open a divorce or child custody case, you may imagine you’ll soon be arguing your case before a judge.
You may believe that accepting help will slow you down. In reality, the trial is the end of a long road, and there are usually faster ways to resolve family cases.
In many U.S. states and counties, the family court requires you to try mediation, or another alternative dispute resolution method, before continuing with your divorce or custody case. Some courts may subsidize the mediation sessions, which means they’ll be free or inexpensive to you.
Other courts can’t offer this, and you’ll have to pay the full price—but that’ll still be cheaper than hiring a trial lawyer. A lawyer might work on your case for months.
When you can’t settle, a professional involved in your case, like a custody evaluator or a guardian ad litem, may write up a recommendation. Once you learn what the expert is going to tell the judge, you may consider this as yet another opportunity to settle with your co-parent. Otherwise, you’ll wait for the judge to decide and issue an order.
One Resource in Michigan: Friend of the Court
Each local court process is different, so let’s look at Michigan as an example. In any divorce or child custody case, Michigan’s Friend of the Court (FOC) is ready to step in.
If you meet certain criteria (e.g., you don’t receive public assistance), you can ask the judge not to send you through the FOC. You and your ex must sign a document agreeing you don’t want to accept help from the FOC. The judge will decide whether to approve your request.
Many Michigan residents don’t have a choice about this part of their court process. They must accept help from the FOC. This often turns out to their advantage, as the FOC can smooth the way for all participants so they avoid conflict at trial.
If the FOC is involved, there are three broad paths:
- First, try to reach your own agreement. The FOC offers mediation, and if you go to these sessions, you may find a good opportunity to settle. Be prepared with a draft of a parenting plan that represents how you and your ex will care for your child. If the two of you find common ground, the mediator will write up your agreement.
- If you can’t compromise, let the FOC make a recommendation. The FOC can make a custody recommendation to the court. If you and your ex raise no objection, the court approves it and makes it your court order.
- As a last resort, head to trial. If either of you objects to the FOC’s recommendation, your court process continues, and you’ll head to trial. It’s a good idea to hire a lawyer.
It’s Wise to Accept Help
If you’re emotionally and financially ready to separate from your ex, of course, you want to divorce as quickly as possible.
Going to trial without asking for or accepting help might sound as if it’s the most direct approach. But it really isn’t. If you and your ex are fighting, you could wait a year before trial. And the trial might not deliver everything you hope for.
Once you can begin to visualize a specific good outcome for your child and for yourself:
- Write down the details of the court order you’d like to receive.
- Prepare to speak with your ex.
- Follow your local court processes, and seek legal help to navigate them.
- Consider accepting help from professionals who are skilled at communication and negotiation.
When you’re in conflict with your ex, the possibility of ever reaching agreement may seem like a long, twisting path. But it’s quicker than waiting for a judge to decide, and you may find you’re happier with the outcome.