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How is mediation different from collaborative divorce?

You may know that your marriage is past saving. But the thought of going to court? That seems every bit as demoralizing as the thought of divorce itself. What can be gained by airing your family's private business in a very public court of law?

Thankfully, in today's society, there are more amicable (and private) ways of getting divorced. You may have come across two of the most common in your Internet research: mediation and collaborative law. Both offer couples a way to work out differences in a less contentious setting - and out of the public eye.

So, what's the difference between them?

The basics of mediation

Of these two kinds of amicable divorce, mediation is the more commonly known. In mediation, couples work with a neutral mediator who advocates for neither spouse. Instead, he or she offers insight on the law and possible solutions in cases where spouses cannot agree on the issues of child custody and support, parenting time, property division or spousal maintenance. Mediators are specifically trained to help couples work together while remaining impartial to either side.

Mediation is a voluntary process, though a judge can order couples into mediation if they believe it will help them better resolve their differences. Additionally, only lawyers (or qualified professionals) specifically trained in mediation can act as family law mediators. The court keeps a list of approved mediators for this reason.

Importantly, couples do not need additional outside counsel when going through mediation, though a spouse can choose to hire a separate attorney if they wish.

The collaborative law process

By contrast, collaborative law involves an entire team of people. First of all, both parties must retain their own lawyer, who must be trained in the collaborative law process. The four of you will sign an agreement at the beginning indicating that you will work collaboratively to avoid litigation. If collaborative talks break down, both spouses will need to find new attorneys to represent them in court.

The four of you will then negotiate the issues of marital property division, custody, child support and spousal maintenance over the course of a few meetings. You can also include outside experts like tax specialists, professional appraisers, family therapists or business valuation professionals into your sessions to assist with negotiations. Adding these people onto the team gives couples the perspective often gained through discovery and expert witness testimony - without having to go through litigation.

Final areas of overlap

The goal of both types of amicable divorce is to help you reach a final settlement you both can agree to and live with. In both cases, you retain much of the control over that settlement, working out creative solutions that fit your family's needs and meet the requirements of the law. Both processes can also save you from the time, stress and expense of going to court.

In a time when more than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, it's almost no wonder that more and more people are seeking divorces without a fight. Mediation and collaborative law are just two ways those couples can move on with dignity, clarity and hope for a brighter future.

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