In mediation, the separating parties hire a trained family law mediator as a neutral party to guide them in facilitating communication and reaching mutual agreements with minimal conflict. There is utmost importance given to client education, balancing power and creative solutions. Mediation may occur with parties who have retained lawyers, as well as, with parties who are not represented. The objective of mediation is to assist the parties to reach an agreement which meet the interests and needs of both parties, without the financial or emotional costs of a contested legal proceeding. The parties must still prepare the pleadings or have the pleadings prepared by counsel.
In recent years, various alternative methods of divorce have been gaining currency among family law practitioners. Collaborative divorce is one such method. The aim of collaborative divorce is to reduce conflict while dissolving a marriage in a cooperative and respectful fashion.
In a traditional (or litigation-based) divorce, the members of the divorcing couple are positioned as opponents, with their respective attorneys competing on their behalf for rights and resources. While this process is appropriate, and sometimes a necessity for some divorces, it can have a number of disadvantages. Litigation is often costly, complicated, and acrimonious. As traditional divorces are processed through the court system, they proceed along a timeline that is often cumbersome and inconvenient. And since litigated divorce is a competitive process, it can breed mistrust and resentment.
Collaborative divorce, on the other hand, proceeds from the principles of cooperation and settlement. Like mediation, collaborative divorce is handled outside of the court system. Unlike mediation, however, each party in a collaborative divorce retains his or her own attorney. The parties proceed not as opponents, but rather as collaborators working towards a mutually agreeable goal. Information is shared more openly, and the process proceeds along a more flexible timetable than in a court proceeding.
While no divorce proceeding is ever easy, the aim of collaborative divorce is to minimize conflict, particularly when children are involved. In addition to the attorneys of the respective clients, collaborative divorce can also include other concerned professionals, such as financial planners or child psychologists. Collaborative divorce is thus a more holistic process than traditional divorce, which sometimes reduces the parties to mere winners and losers, rather than people with individual needs and concerns.
Beginning a collaborative divorce does not preclude the possibility of a traditional divorce. If the parties in a collaborative divorce are unable to reach a mutually agreeable settlement, they can still choose to begin a traditional divorce proceeding, at which point their attorneys from the collaborative divorce must withdraw.
While collaborative divorce will not be ideal for every couple or every situation, it is quickly emerging as a powerful tool for couples who want to reduce the conflicts and costs related to ending their marriage. Couples deciding on divorce attorneys and processes should include collaborative divorce among the choices they consider.