Simplifying Divorce with Wisdom From 'Northern Exposure'
I spent part of my weekend binge watching episodes of a 1990s tv show, Northern Exposure. Learning this old favorite was now streaming on Amazon Prime was a delightful surprise. Rediscovering this old favorite three decades later felt like a new experience; I had forgotten some of the storylines and plot twists, and I delighted in encountering each quirky character again.
In a long-forgotten storyline, one of those quirky characters, Shelly Tambo, realizes she needs a legal divorce from her ex, Wayne, so he can marry her best friend, Cindy. Realizing her best friend is in a legal conundrum and needs help, Shelly’s solution is to ask Chris Stevens, Cicely’s only ordained clergyman, to “perform the divorce.” When Chris responds that he’s not able to, Shelly retorts, “If you can glue two people together, why can’t you break ‘em apart?”
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that I find this storyline and concept amusing. Afterall, divorce is my professional area of expertise. But it got me thinking. This impulse or desire to limit lawyers or avoid using lawyers altogether is not new. For decades now people have looked for simpler, less adversarial ways to undo the marriage deed. Like Shelly, many lack a full understanding of what a legal divorce is, let alone how to get one. Also, like Shelly, this doesn’t always stop people from trying to get divorced without consulting with a lawyer. In fact, that may be the point.
I get it! Lawyers seem to complicate things. Lawyers seemingly create new issues and sub-issues, where none existed before. Lawyer work tends to be contentious in nature. For many divorcing parties, the thought of using an adversarial approach and inserting more conflict in the middle of an already difficult transition is a non-starter.
Drawing from my experience as a former Utah family law litigator, I find this perspective is not entirely off-base. The escalation of adversarial tensions is a familiar sight when one of the parties hires a lawyer. This often triggers a defensive response from the other party who may hire full-scope legal counsel to avoid feeling out-matched by their opponent. The ensuing journey typically entails a lengthy stint at the courthouse, replete with motions, oral arguments, and court hearings.
This could go on for a year, or more. Consider what it will be like spending the next year communicating with your spouse or co-parent through legal counsel. Imagine a year of keeping your lawyer on retainer, and a year of legal fees adding up. Interestingly, despite this prolonged legal saga, parties are eventually steered toward mandatory mediation prior to trial, where, more often than not, they resolve their matter, cancelling the trial.
This convoluted path epitomizes complexity. But, guess what? For most of you, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is an better solution. Consider getting a non-court divorce. While no divorce approach is uncomplicated, a non-court divorce is less adversarial, less time consuming, less traumatic (for children and for the parties themselves), and less expensive. But, understand both parties must agree to the non-court approach in order to use it.
In the case of Shelly Tambo, her estranged husband, Wayne, and her best friend Cindy, Shelly wanted a friendlier way to handle her divorce with Wayne. She wanted to preserve her good relationship with Cindy and she likely wanted a cost-effective, less stressful outcome. This is not unlike the experience of going through divorce in 2024. Most people desire a private, controlled process that facilitates a smooth but efficient transition into post-divorce living.
Limit Your Lawyer's Role
If you have already reached an agreement in-principle with your spouse or co-parent, or if you don’t quite have an agreement yet, but you are willing to submit to a non-court dispute resolution process, there is a more streamlined way to get legally divorced that will save you both time and money and which doesn’t involve going to a courthouse. Best of all, this approach allows you to get quality, limited-scope or unbundled legal guidance, in-line with your goal of keeping costs down and staying out-of-court.
Indeed, everyone should get independent legal advice from a licensed Utah divorce lawyer before filing a divorce.
Get Divorced Without Going to Court
You may be tempted to hire a mediator to mediate your divorce amicably. While mediation can be essential to your divorce resolution, going to a mediator before you have developed your case, before you know what your limits are, or before you have gotten legal advice may not be the best approach. Doing this is akin to buying a car before inspecting it, or buying a home sight unseen. If you want a smooth, error-free experience, you should do your homework first.
Your homework will be gathering a number of financial documents, including bank and pay records, credit reports, and valuations. The legal evaluation you receive from your lawyer will help you gain confidence over your case, fine tune your financial ask, and have clarity over your negotiation limits before heading in to a mediator’s office.
What I am talking about is case development. Professional divorce lawyers do this on behalf of their clients before the divorce is ever filed. But if you don’t have a lawyer, or want to limit how you use your lawyer, how do you develop your own case? What are the documents that need to be gathered? What are the details that need to be analyzed? Is it even possible to do your own case development and prep work without forking over a few grand to a fancy law firm? The answer is yes—and the solution is My Divorce Launchpad.
Legal Support Each Step of the Way
Want to get the ball rolling now, but don’t know where to start? Do you want legal advice, but fear involving lawyers too soon will add unnecessary conflict, time, and expense to the process? Do you want a smooth, trouble-free approach where you feel supported and where your children are prioritized? Introducing My Divorce Launchpad.
Join divorce lawyer Jennifer L. Neeley as she walks you through the legal essentials of a Utah divorce in this live, 3-day event. Whether you are handling your divorce DIY, mediating it, thinking about the Collaborative process, the “Uncontested” route, or litigating it in court, you will benefit from attending My Divorce Launchpad. In this workshop, you will gain full awareness of what your legal issues are, develop your financial ask, property settlement, and parenting plan, so that you can organize an outcome you can get on board with.
In this one-of-a-kind, live event, you will learn how to develop your case and think like a lawyer. When you leave here at the end of the three days, you’ll either have the clarity and direction to know what to do next, or you will be able to go on to resolve, complete, and finalize your divorce.
We can learn a lot from our fictional friends in Cicely, Alaska. Sometimes the cooperative route is the better approach. Also, I can’t help but think Shelly Tambo would have appreciated the creative and flexible solutions that non-court divorce, or pre-suit divorce, offer.
Jennifer L. Neeley
Jennifer has helped thousands of people get divorced without fighting in court.
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