Going through any legal process is stressful and filled with uncertainty. How will this affect my kids? Will my co-parent hate me when this is over? How much is this going to cost? Getting a divorce or establishing paternity for a child requires that certain paperwork be filed in court because these processes are legal processes. The good news, however, is that you have options for completing the divorce or paternity process without ever setting foot in a courtroom.

Legal shows on television and well-meaning friends and family paint a rather scary picture of what it means to participate in any legal process. Most people incorrectly believe that a judge must decide custody, parenting time, child support and the other important issues related to parenting from two households. In reality, asking a judge to decide is only one of the available options (and it should be the last resort!).

If you are like most people, the idea that a stranger who will never meet your child will make important decisions that affect your child’s life sounds uncomfortable and frightening. The best people to make decisions about a child are the child’s parents! Luckily, there are no-court options available for parents who want to keep the control and decision-making authority for themselves.

Collaborative law is a newer and growing area of law which allows co-parents to assemble a team of professionals including attorneys, communication coaches, child specialists and financial professionals to assist them with making the important decisions about how to co-parent from two households. A collaborative team is assembled based upon the needs of the family and meets together with the parents to advise and to explore child-centered solutions. Participants in the collaborative process not only do not go to court; they sign an agreement at the beginning of their process which commits to one another that they will not ask a judge to make the decisions.

Mediation is a no-court option, which involves co-parents meeting with a trained facilitator who manages the discussion between parents in order to reach agreement about the important co-parenting challenge ahead. Mediation participants can attend mediation with or without attorneys. The mediator is a neutral and cannot provide legal advice to either parent, but can brainstorm practical solutions with participants to reach child-centered solutions.

If you are in need of legal services related to divorce or paternity consider seeking an attorney who is trained in both collaborative law and mediation so that you can hear the full menu of process options available to you. Gather information about the available processes and make a decision based upon the needs of your family and your personal preference.