The traditional legal system was not designed to deal with divorce, separation, custody, or other family-law issues. Alternative systems are evolving to help families find a process to resolve their differences in a way that allows them to heal rather than fracture, and builds trust rather than animosity. There is a wide range of options available. The hardest step in the process is deciding to reach a separation agreement without litigation. Once the parties commit to that path, they will find the steps in the process are very achievable.
Draft a budget; even an amicable separation agreement can be expensive. Talk about how to share the costs.
Pick a process. Many options help couples reach an agreement without going to court. Not every couple can just sit down and work it out, so hiring a trained mediator is a great investment. A mediator can help couples identify important issues that need to be resolved and help them move forward even through the rough spots. Collaborative law can provide even more support. Each party has a lawyer, but they agree to work out the issues during a series of meetings rather than go to court.
Gather financial information. When parties understand each others' financial assets, income, and plans, it helps create an understanding of what settlement terms will be important to each party. In some situations, this disclosure is necessary to create a valid separation agreement.
Commit to the process. The success of alternative dispute resolution relies on the parties' commitment to the process. If both parties agree to work out the issues, they usually do.
Have a lawyer draft the contract. Once an agreement is reached, the parties' lawyers can turn the parties' ideas into a binding contract. The lawyers can also help make sure the contract is complete and will work in different situations that may occur in the future.