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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Carmichael

How to Get a Divorce

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

One of the most common questions I get from my clients is - “How do I even get a divorce?” Unlike when you got married, you can’t simply go to the court to get a "divorce" license. A divorce (or legal separation) is a multi-step process that can be confusing and cumbersome. There are three main processes you can use for your divorce. In this article we will discuss the process pros and cons, as well as what process may be right for you.

Litigation (Going to Court)

When I talk to people about the divorce process, they typically think they have to hire an attorney and go to court. This is a common misconception. Most people think a legal process equals attorneys. Or they have seen a divorce played out in a movie or tv show where lawyers battled it out in court. In reality, litigation is only one option for getting a divorce.

The litigation process is very adversarial, or causes conflict and fighting. You and your spouse each hire your own attorney. Your attorneys handle your filings with the court and try to reach a settlement. Ultimately, if settlement cannot be reached, you have to go to court for a trial before a judge.

Litigation is the most expensive and time consuming process option. For example, in Arizona, the average person spends about $25,000 on their divorce. This is one spouse, meaning that collectively a couple spends about $50,000 to complete their divorce. In addition, you are waiting for court dates to be set and your process is higher conflict, meaning it can take a year or more to complete your divorce. That is a lot of time and money to leave your marriage. I’ve even had clients come to me after they’ve spent 2 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation, with no agreements or much movement towards settlement to show for all that time and money.

Attorneys have an important purpose in a divorce process, but litigation isn’t necessary.

Mediation is a process in which a third-party neutral helps you and your spouse reach all necessary agreements to finalize your divorce outside of court. You may choose to hire attorneys to join you in mediation or can come without attorneys. The mediator helps guide the conversation and lower conflict to help you reach agreements that are unique to you and your family. Unlike in court, mediation is a confidential process, allowing you and your partner to keep the personal details of your lives outside of a court record.

Each mediator will offer different services. For instance, I help my clients reach all of their agreements, handle the drafting of their legal documents, and file them with the court. Some mediators instead help you reach all of your agreements, and then you take those agreements to another professional, like an attorney, to draft and file them. I typically meet with my clients for two hour meetings, typically needing 2 to 3 meetings to complete a divorce. Other mediators may meet with their clients for half or full day meetings. It’s important to meet with your mediator and see what options they provide.

Mediation is a much lower cost and a shorter process. While litigated divorce can cost around $50,000 or more, mediation typically ranges between $4,000 and $7,000 total. Additionally, you and your partner control your timeline, meaning you can complete your divorce much more quickly than waiting on the court’s timeline. Please know that your state may have a waiting period, which will control the shortest your timeline can be. For example, in Arizona we have a 60 day waiting period. This means that most of my clients finish their process in 2 - 5 months.

It is important to know that mediation does not limit your access to attorneys. I highly recommend that my clients use attorneys to review their documents, or even attend meetings if my clients prefer it. Attorneys can help you in collaboration with the mediation process, while keeping costs lower.

Additionally, mediation is not only for low-conflict spouses. I commonly hear - “My spouse and I don’t agree on anything! How can we do mediation?” An experienced mediator can help you work through your conflict and find mutual solutions without lengthy litigation, as long as you and your spouse are both willing to participate in mediation. You don’t have to agree on everything or anything! It is very common that spouses are angry, hurt, and don’t agree when they come to mediation. Your mediator is there to help.

On Your Own or Document Preparation

While you can technically complete the court documents yourself, it is not highly recommended. The court documents:

  • Don’t address all the possible options for the division of your assets and debts

  • Often cannot be used if you have “complex” assets like retirement accounts

  • Don’t account for major financial pitfalls, like tax implications

  • Are very limited and do not allow for creativity

  • Provide only cookie-cutter agreements for your parenting plan that often do not fit you and your children’s needs

  • Can be confusing to understand and complete correctly

For these reasons, if you and your spouse have already reached all of your agreements surrounding your divorce and don’t need guidance on reaching agreements, document preparation services might be right for you. Document preparers collect the information you provide to them and draft the documents accordingly. Often, they will offer a service where they handle the filing for you. This can be a lower cost option for those who don’t need assistance reaching agreements.


Ultimately, it is important that you consider the needs of you and your family, making a decision on the best process for you. I recommend scheduling a consultation with a few professionals to better understand what option may be the right fit. A professional should provide you with information and answer your questions, without pressuring you to start the process or leaving you feeling scared. The right divorce professional helps you feel prepared, confident, and in good hands.

If you need help deciding what process is best for you, schedule a free consultation here.

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