How to Resolve Your Divorce Without Going to Trial

Alternative Dispute Resolution ADR, Adverse Drug Reaction, text written on wooden cubes against the background of a man in a gray suit sitting at a table.

Going through a divorce is stressful enough — but taking your case to trial can make it even more emotionally overwhelming. Fortunately, you may have other divorce options that can help reduce the cost, contention, and anxiety associated with litigation. There are several alternative dispute resolution methods that can allow you to settle the issues in your case, rather than let a judge determine the outcome.

What Issues Need to Be Resolved in a Pennsylvania Divorce?

There are certain issues that must be addressed during divorce proceedings, regardless of the method you use to divorce. While each issue is considered separately, no divorce will be finalized until all of them have been resolved. Before a judge will issue your divorce decree, the following must be decided:

  • Alimony and spousal support — In some cases, a spouse who was financially supported by the other during the course of the marriage may be entitled to receive alimony payments.
  • Property and asset division — Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. This means that any property acquired during the marriage must be divided fairly (not necessarily equally) between the spouses. Marital property might include the marital home, retirement accounts, vehicles, bank accounts, and other real or personal property.
  • Allocating marital debt — The responsibility for debt incurred by either spouse while they were married must be divided, such as credit card debt, car loans, mortgages, and outstanding bills.

Pennsylvania courts do not require child support and custody to be determined prior to being divorced. Although these matters can be decided in separate court actions, resolving these issues through mediation is an option. In addition, child support and custody arrangements arrived at by agreements can be altered by the court to suit the best interests of the child or children from time to time.

If spouses can reach a written agreement to settle the terms of their divorce using an alternative dispute resolution method, they can save a substantial amount of time and money that would otherwise be spent on litigation. However, even reaching a partial settlement outside of court can be financially conducive — and emotionally beneficial.

Methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Divorce isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither are the avenues you might pursue to conclude your case. There are four main methods of alternative dispute resolution used in Pennsylvania divorces, and each can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of your situation. The following processes can help you reach a settlement agreement — effectively, efficiently, and amicably:


If you and your soon-to-be former spouse can’t seem to compromise on any of the matters that need to be resolved before a court will issue your divorce judgment, your attorneys may be able to negotiate your wants and needs. While there must be give and take on both sides, informal negotiations can lead to a settlement agreement that is satisfactory to each spouse, without requiring a trial.

It’s essential to be patient during negotiations. Settlement discussions often start with the commencement of the divorce and can continue for weeks or months. Regardless of whether your divorce case is headed to trial, a resolution can be negotiated at any time. In fact, even when your case is on the court docket, a judge will want to hear that you’ve been engaged in serious settlement talks.


Mediation is a non-confrontational, non-adversarial process during which you and your spouse will meet with a neutral third-party called a mediator. Rather than advocate for either side, the mediator’s job is to facilitate respectful communication and guide you both towards a mutually acceptable resolution. Mediation offers numerous benefits including cost-effectiveness, flexibility, efficiency, and privacy. If mediation is successful, there may be no need for you and your spouse to appear before a judge at all.

Additionally, mediation can be particularly beneficial if you have children and will need to continue working together with your ex-spouse to raise them. At the mediation sessions, you can work with the mediator to create a comprehensive parenting plan, visitation schedule, and custody agreement that is in the best interests of your children. You will also learn invaluable techniques for healthy communication that can be utilized to reduce conflict throughout your co-parenting relationship.


Arbitration is another option available to divorcing spouses in Pennsylvania that can offer the advantages of both mediation and litigation. Arbitration is similar to the mediation process in that it offers flexible solutions for contested matters in a private setting. But, like litigation, it allows a third-party to resolve the case.

You and your spouse can agree to binding or non-binding arbitration. In binding arbitration, the arbitrator’s decisions must be followed — with the exception of child custody determinations, which are appealable in court. Non-binding arbitration gives you the option to appeal any of the arbitrator’s rulings in court. While an arbitration hearing resembles a trial, you can tailor the formality of your case and decide how you want exhibits and witnesses to be presented.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is a voluntary process that can be used to legally end a marriage in Pennsylvania. It utilizes a team of professionals who will work with you, your spouse, and your respective attorneys as you strive to reach a fair settlement. Collaborative divorce teams are often comprised of accountants, financial professionals, therapists, parenting coaches, and others who can provide knowledge, expertise, and insight.

At the beginning of the collaborative divorce process, you and your spouse must sign a Participation Agreement in which you commit to treating each other with respect, disclose information honestly, and negotiate a settlement in good faith. At each session, you will discuss your goals, explain your financial objectives, and develop a plan for your children. Once you reach a settlement on all the issues that must be determined, your attorney will draft an agreement which will be submitted to the court for a judge to sign.

The Advantages of Alternative Dispute Resolution

The biggest benefit of alternative dispute resolution is having control over your future. These methods are also better for your children by allowing you to take a more personalized approach to creating a parenting plan and maintaining an amicable co-parenting relationship. By keeping your divorce out of court, you can also keep the details surrounding the breakdown of your marriage out of the public record — as well as save time and considerable expense.

There is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is suitable for every type of case. Whether your divorce is highly contentious, involves a substantial amount of assets, or can easily be resolved, the method used can depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your situation. It’s a good idea to consult with a skilled divorce attorney who can advise you regarding the best course of action.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Alternative Dispute Resolution Attorney

At Berman & Associates, we offer compassionate counsel and high-quality advocacy for those facing divorce and family law matters in Pennsylvania. We take the time to discuss the facts of your case, listen to your concerns, and advise you of your options. With a commitment to providing tailored legal services, we work diligently to achieve positive results in every case. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a consultation.