The process of getting a joint dissolution and parenting plan can be overwhelming. A family law attorney as mediator will help to break the process down into manageable steps and will help diffuse and minimize conflict along the way.
Step 1: Separation – When you’ve decided it is time to separate households, your first step will be to decide who moves out, and who takes what furnishings. You will need a rough idea of your temporary parenting schedule, and a temporary budget that allows your joint finances to support two households. You rarely need to obtain a legal separation agreement and all of this can be done informally. If you are unable to agree on your plan for separation, a mediation session can help you to come to this temporary agreement.
Step 2: Information Gathering- Your joint dissolution paperwork will require you to list some statistical information (such as previous addresses, date and place of marriage, etc.) and to make an accurate list of everything you own, all your various accounts, all your debts, and the value of all those items. This list must include items you obtained pre-marriage, post-marriage, through gift, inheritance, or otherwise, no matter whose name is on the title or account. In other words, everything. This can be a short and easy process or can become more time consuming and complicated when there are businesses, second homes, or retirement accounts without a current cash value. It is important to be thorough in your information gathering because you will be signing a final agreement that states you are satisfied that you have made your decision with every piece of information available to you, and that you understand the mediated agreement is final. Even if there is substantial disagreement, through joint dissolution mediation you and your spouse can come to see eye to eye on what should be on this list, and what the value is of each.
Step 3: Drafting initial paperwork- Once you’ve gathered all the relevant information, you can either fill out do-it-yourself dissolution paperwork, or have your family law attorney draft these documents for your signature, to be filed in Missoula for Missoula County residents. If you are hoping to save costs, the do-it-yourself paperwork is somewhat straightforward, though there are many forms. If you would rather avoid the confusion and hassle of the paperwork, your mediator can draft these documents for your signature based on the information that you have already compiled.
Step 4: Proposing how to divide your estate- Each of you can work separately with your mediator to come up with your proposals on how to divide your estate, and your parenting schedule. Many people are not sure where to start, what is allowable, and what is fair when it comes to dividing assets, especially if those assets are not liquid. Your joint dissolution mediator will be able to advise you about what the court expects to see in a fair division of a marital estate, and will help you understand the process of how to divide more complicated assets such as a home, second home, equity in a business, or retirement account. Your mediator will help you solidify in your mind, what is fair, and help manage your expectations about what type of agreement you may end up with when all is said and done. Through the information gathering phase, some couples realize there is an obvious split that is fair to everyone and logistically simple.
Step 5: Mediation and final agreements- Armed with all the necessary information and your realistic expectations about your final agreement, you will spend up to a full day of mediation with your spouse. At Forward Legal in Missoula, you will engage in evaluative mediation, which is a process of working in separate rooms with the mediator who will give you advice on what to propose next based on her knowledge of Montana law and likely outcomes if you were to take your case to court. If at any point this process becomes emotionally overwhelming, Meri may suggest you work cooperatively with a co-parenting counselor and will refer you for a number of sessions to help break through these issues, coming back to the table when the process becomes more manageable. At the close of mediation, you will sign a petition for joint dissolution, with a property settlement agreement and a parenting plan, that will represent the final agreement of how you intend to divide your estate and parent going forward.
Step 5: Drafting final orders.- Though you’ve come up with a final agreement, you will need more time to copy this agreement into a final order for the court’s signature. Once all your information is compiled and your documents are finished, you may simply turn your joint dissolution in to the court for the judge to sign, without the need for a hearing. If your are drafting your own paperwork, you will set one final appointment with the mediator to review your documents, or if you are having the mediator draft these for you, these can be ready in a matter of days after your mediation.