What Is The Difference Between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce?

What Is The Difference Between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce?
December 1, 2022

Some people seem to be born negotiators; they take on the challenge without much thought and intuitively move through the process. Then there are those who shrink at the first hint of conflict, and try to avoid confrontation at all costs. If you’ve found yourself in a place where divorce is the next logical step, but even thinking about stepping foot in a courtroom makes you stressed or just a bit ill, take heart. 

The team at the Law Offices Of Cara L. Santosuosso, LLC understands, and we provide alternative ways to handle divorce. Our focus is on you and your rights, but that never gets in the way of cooperation. We offer clients both mediation and collaborative divorce, among other services. Today we’re going to get to the bottom of what sets these two options apart.

Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, Defined

In mediation, both parties work with one specially-trained neutral party–the mediator–to work through concerns and wishes as they craft a plan for divorce or dissolution. The mediator may or may not be an attorney, and they may make suggestions, but more often than not they aim to facilitate civil discussion. Mediators have no authority to impose agreements on the parties. Their focus is three-pronged: aiding communication, helping the opposing parties to understand each other’s perspective, and reaching common ground. Mediators will also draft required paperwork that outlines your agreement. Mediation can often take less time, as the focus is on the outcome, and because there are limited people involved in the discussions.

On the other hand, there’s collaborative divorce. It isn’t dramatically different from mediation, but does have some defining nuances. Collaborative divorce typically includes four primary individuals: the divorcing couple, and each of their collaborative divorce attorneys. Experts may also be brought in to help come to a consensus on matters involving finances and minor children. The focus during collaborative divorce is to work together to reach a creative solution that is best for everyone involved. Because the goal is developing specific solutions, and because there are more parties involved, the process naturally takes longer than mediation. Collaborative divorce attorneys are not neutral–they will advocate for their clients, ensuring that their rights are protected and that they are treated fairly in the final agreement. This focus on individual rights can cause some tension.

Both mediation and collaborative divorce aim to avoid litigation, but it’s important to remember that both processes will still require you to get a final judgment of divorce from a court. Since you have both agreed to the terms of your divorce, it will be deemed “uncontested” and so will be much less expensive and far faster to receive a final divorce decree. 

These similar means to the same end also strive to keep couples’ personal matters private, and to limit the mental and emotional anguish that naturally comes with the upheaval that divorce brings. They are both excellent alternatives for what can otherwise quickly become an adversarial process. That said, there are definitely situations in which you and your partner may be better off choosing either mediation or collaborative divorce

When to Choose Mediation

It could be that you want or need the divorce process to be as quick and as painless as possible. In that case, the timing of mediation is on your side. If you both already have a loose agreement in place and just need to iron out the final details, you could complete the mediation process in just a few sessions. That could mean that within the span of just two or three months, you could be finished and will then only need to wait on the court’s decree. In general, mediation works best when the divorcing parties are already in agreement and there are not many or any points of contention or complex situations that require an expert’s help.

Mediation is also generally more flexible overall, while still offering couples control over the final outcome. When each party has a say in the mediation agreement, it is more likely that they will each abide by its terms. Cost is another practical reason to choose mediation. Typical ranges fall at around $7,000 to $10,000 per couple for a mediated divorce. This is far less than a collaborative divorce, which could range from $25,000 to $50,000 depending on case complexity and whether outside professionals are brought in. If finances are already stretched thin, then mediation might be the better way forward.

When to Choose Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce can be viewed as a more complex alternative to mediation. There are a few criteria that might make it difficult for both parties to come to an agreement in mediation. These might include times when you and your partner are not on good terms and aren’t open to quick agreement, but you both would prefer to avoid litigation. In these situations, having legal counsel representing you and advocating for your rights could be in your best interest. This is especially important if there are complex legal or financial issues involved, or proceedings will touch on matters that you aren’t very familiar with. If there is a distinct power imbalance in your relationship, that could make it difficult to fairly discuss difficult but important topics. Legal representation can limit one spouse from dominating the conversation, while the other quietly agrees.

In situations where mental illness, domestic violence or abuse, or substance abuse is present, mediation simply is not an option, and collaborative divorce could be a solution. The ability to bring in experts can also help to find the best way forward. This is also true in matters of complicated finances or child care. Also, unlike mediation, as part of collaborative divorce each party has access to legal advice to help them make practical and equitable decisions.

One thing to keep in mind about collaborative divorce is that all legal advisors must sign a participation agreement which bars them from filing a case in court if the process ends up becoming contentious. This means that if collaboration breaks down and you decide that litigation is a better option, you will need to work with a different lawyer. Also important to realize is that collaborative divorce can span many sessions that last months or over a year to complete. 

Work With Experienced Collaborative Divorce Lawyers

Whether you choose mediation or collaborative divorce, you will be part of defining the terms of your final agreement. Both processes are about finding the most productive solutions for you and your family and to make the transition to post-divorce life as easy as possible. That said, this is still going to be a trialsome time.

If a divorce is in your future but you want to avoid litigation, the expert legal professionals at the Law Offices Of Cara L. Santosuosso, LLC are on your side. We can meet with you and help you to determine which course is best for you and your family. Our guidance is based on solid experience and a genuine, heartfelt place of caring. We want what is best for you, and we will work on your behalf until we get there. If your goal is ending a marriage with minimal cost and stress, reach out to learn more about our services–we’re ready to help you through this difficult time. Get in touch with us today!