There are five main paths through the divorce process, and you can choose whichever route is most appropriate for your situation, provided you and your spouse are in agreement about approach. If you are not in agreement about the approach, then one of you will be filing a petition for divorce against the other spouse, most likely with an attorney representing you.
The order in which these paths are presented is significant: In general, as the numbers increase, so does the cost, amount of time, and amount of conflict through the divorce process.
If your divorce is fairly simple, for example, you don't have children, substantial assets or debts, and won't be discussing spousal support, then you may consider filing for divorce yourself. This is most frequently done by jointly completing and filing a Co-Petition for Dissolution. You can obtain the packet of multiple required forms online, or at the courthouse of the county in which you will be filing.
#2. Divorce Mediation
A divorce mediator works with you and your spouse to guide you through discussing and making decisions for all the issues in your divorce. The mediator writes a detailed agreement which is then filed with the courts and becomes your legal divorce settlement agreement. While there are many benefits of mediation it does not require you to be on good terms or amicable with your spouse; mediators have many problem-solving and conflict resolution tools to keep the parties productively moving towards settlement.
#3. Collaborative Divorce
In a collaborative divorce process, each spouse agrees to hire a family law attorney that has been trained in collaborative techniques. This approach helps spouses arrive at a healthy, respectful settlement instead of the aggressive adversarial approach of traditionally-trained family law attorneys. Collaborative Attorneys often work with other neutral specialists (including divorce coaches, child counselor, and financial advisor) as a part of a team that communicates with each other for the benefit of the entire family.
#4. Divorce Arbitration
In a Divorce Arbitration process, the divorcing spouses mutually agree to hire a private arbitrator to gather and hear the facts of the case (usually presented by each spouse's representing attorney) and make a decision on the disputed items. The spouses sign a contract to abide by whatever the arbitrator decides as the final outcome of their divorce agreement, regardless of how fair it feels to either party. In this sense, it operates much like a litigated trial, with a bit less cost and formality because the person acting as a "judge" is privately hired by the spouses.
#5. Divorce Litigation
In the traditional litigated approach, one spouse hires a divorce lawyer to file a Petition for Dissolution (along with other documents) against the other spouse, and the receiving spouse who is "served" hires a lawyer to files a counter-petition responding to and contesting the divorce. From then on, each spouse's attorney advocates for the best outcome for their client by negotiating with the opposing spouse's attorney, while discouraging any direct communication between the spouses.
Approximately 80-90% of the cases in this litigation process settle before a trial, often with the attorneys pressuring their clients to compromise on some issues as the trial date gets closer. The cases in which child custody is being litigated and a custody evaluation is ordered tend to be the longest, highest conflict and most expensive to litigate.
The Paths Between
While many people commit to one of these five paths, they are not the only options. Each of the five primary ways for how to divorce have variations that may include components from some of the other paths. In other words, you may be able to combine to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of any one of these options. To read more about combining more than one of these options, read about the variations for each path on "How to Get a Divorce in Oregon."