One of the first things we tell couples when meeting with us is that they need to determine what process they want to use to reach a settlement. There are several options available such as “pro-se” (which is a term for “do-it-yourself”), mediation, collaborative divorce, or litigation. When evaluating options, we encourage people to strongly consider mediation or collaborative divorce. Both are alternative dispute resolution methods of coming together to discuss and negotiate your settlement outside of court. Many people struggle with which route is best for them, so we have created a comparison of the difference between mediation and collaborative divorce.
Let’s start with identifying the common components of each method.
Mediation is led by a professional mediator who is obligated to act as a neutral party. It can be very cost-effective because you control who is involved in the process. If you and your spouse are relatively amicable, you may feel comfortable working through your settlement with only the help of a mediator and there may be no need for any other professionals. It is up to you whether or not your attorneys or a financial neutral is available for the meeting depending on how comfortable you are with negotiating with your partner and understanding the financial components of your case. You may meet with your mediator separately or as a couple before the mediation meetings begin to provide the data about your case such as financial statements, mortgage documents, credit card statements, etc. Once mediation starts, a mediator is there to help facilitate conversation and let you come to an agreement on your own. Once you are finished, your mediator will write up a summary of your agreements that you can take to legal counsel to formalize your settlement.
Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation in that you provide information freely to each other and work through settlement discussions in a more informal and cost-effective way. However, there are more people involved to help you. Although all cases are slightly different, collaborative divorce provides the opportunity to have both collaboratively trained attorneys present at all meetings. The meetings are then facilitated typically by a mental health professional who is trained in the process, as well. If your financial situation is complicated, or there is a difference in comfort level with your finances, a financial neutral may be brought in to help provide education about the different financial assets involved in the case, answer questions, and advise as to what settlement options may be most ideal for the couple. Further, when beginning the collaborative divorce process, all participants (the couple and all professionals) sign a collaborative participation agreement that states if the process breaks down, each spouse will have to hire new legal counsel and start over. This provides “buy-in” from both parties to get everything settled during the collaborative process. This option can also be more cost-effective than litigation and provides more education to the parties along the way to help you feel confident in the decisions you are making.
While mediation and collaborative divorce have a lot of aspects in common, there are some distinct differences, as well. If you are interested in pursuing either of these options to reach a divorce settlement, we would be happy to discuss both processes with you in detail and help you decide what method is best for you.