Most middle-class families don't have a lot of excess money lying around, Mindel says. For that reason, Mindel says he's seeing more couples working toward mediated agreements and alternative dispute resolution rather than suing each other in a courtroom.
"People used to just rush out and let the judge make a decision, and now they want to make their own decision," he says. "When a couple goes to mediation, their attorney fees may be one-third of the cost of going to court."
Participating in mediation doesn't just mean saving money; it means working together. A few years ago, divorcing spouses would "rush out and buy the most expensive lawyer blindly," Mindel says. "If you're going to fight it out, judges will rush to sell your house and liquidate your stock portfolio in order to pay attorneys' fees. People don't want that result, so more of them are working together rather than blaming each other. They don't want to be forced to sell a house for less than what's owed on it or be forced to take their kids out of private school."
For instance, instead of selling the family home quickly to split the equity, a mediating couple may decide to let one spouse stay in the house for a few more years until the market improves and split the proceeds later.