Today couples are looking for alternatives to litigation, in the administration of their marital dissolution. In traditional divorce matters, a judge will ultimately decide the divisions of property, spousal support, child custody and child support.

Many couples now seek to be more involved in the resolution of the divorce issues. One alternative dispute resolution method by which spouses can gain more control over the process and outcome of their divorce is through an advisory opinion.

What is an Advisory Opinion?
An advisory opinion is, in essence, a mock trial, and provides a preview as to how a judge may rule if the divorce proceedings were to go to trial. The advisory opinions are based upon similar cases that have gone to trial, and are issued by experienced family law attorneys, panels of lawyers who specialize in advisory opinions and judges. The advisory opinions are non-binding, which means the couple has the option to later modify their divorce terms, in order to achieve a more favorable outcome.

The Advisory Opinion Process Each spouse, accompanied by their respective lawyer, will meet in a place agreed upon by both parties or prescribed by the person offering the advisory opinion. At this meeting, each attorney is permitted to state his or her case through oral proceedings and documents pertaining to the divorce.

After considering the oral proceedings and reviewing the submitted documents, the individual issuing the advisory opinion offers their opinion as to how they think a trial judge would rule on the divorce. After hearing the opinions of the advisor attorney, the couple may agree to settle, may want to further negotiate the terms of the divorce, or may decide to proceed to trial.

Settlement Conferences
Another similar alternative dispute resolution process is a settlement conference. In such a conference, the representing attorneys consult a judge before trial. These meetings allow the attorneys to present their cases to a judge. The judge considers the information presented and gives her opinion on what she would likely rule in the current situation if the case went to trial.

Some judges do not allow clients to be present at the conferences in order to avoid disruptive emotional outbreaks. As in the case where an experienced family law attorney issues an advisory opinion, the judge’s decision is not binding.