It is easy to confuse Collaborative Law with standard mediation if you do not know the key differences. While they both can be excellent methods of resolving conflicts in a divorce and avoiding costly litigation, they are each more appropriate for respective specific situations.
One of the most fundamental differences between mediation and Collaborative Law is the timing of when each is most effectively used. Mediation can be a very effective tool early on in a divorce proceeding, prior to discovery or before any litigation as been brought against one or both parties. However, mediation is often sought after it will be most effective, once some of the damage of litigation has already occurred.
Collaborative Law can be effective in all stages of a divorce proceeding. This is due in part to the fact that Collaborative Law innately involves both parties having legal representation for the entire negotiation, who will fight to retain their respective clients rights and interests. However, because the attorneys involved are negotiating on behalf of their respective clients, it creates a relationship-preserving boundary between the divorcing parties, and can keep the negotiations more civil in tense circumstances. This intentional focus on resolution and settlement will help those who choose Collaborative Law to save money and time, while always having the representation of a qualified legal representative. In standard mediation, both parties do not always have access to their own legal counsel.
Collaborative Law is also intended to be an ongoing process that can accompany many portions of the divorce proceeding to help them play out smoothly and fairly. This stands in contrast to mediation, which is generally an isolated event used once matters have reached boiling point. Collaborative Law practitioners understand that keeping a divorce civil and fair is an ongoing responsibility and privilege, and treat it as such.
Source: disputeresolutioncounsel.com, "Differences between Collaborative Law (CL) and Mediation," MICHAEL ZEYTOONIAN, accessed July 29, 2016