Alternatives to the traditional divorce process are increasingly popular in the Bay Area. Instead of enduring a drawn-out fight over property division, spousal support and child custody, divorcing couples can turn to one of several alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. ADR might help you end your marriage faster, less expensively and with fewer headaches and sleepless nights.
Two of the most popular ADR methods for dealing with divorce are mediation and collaborative divorce. They are similar in many ways. But there are key differences between collaborative divorce and divorce mediation that you need to know about before you and your spouse decide which one (if either) is right for you.
In mediation, the spouses hire a neutral third-party called a mediator. The mediator should be knowledgeable about California family law, and many divorce mediators are attorneys or retired judges. But they do not represent either side. The mediator’s job is to help both sides negotiate. You and your spouse can work with your own attorney to prepare for the mediation session, and your lawyer can represent you at the session. If successful, the mediation ends with both sides agreeing to a settlement of all necessary matters.
Meanwhile, collaborative divorce puts the spouses in more direct control of the negotiation. There is no third-party administrator. Instead, the process depends on the parties being motivated to work together (along with their attorneys) to settle their divorce. The lawyer you hire must be trained in collaborative law for the process to work effectively. You likely will also work with a team of experts like a financial specialist and a child specialist to prepare, so you will have clear goals in mind going into the collaboration sessions. The process can last several sessions over several weeks, possibly months.
Do these fit your case?
Mediation and collaborative divorce are not right for every divorce. A couple with a highly strained relationship is unlikely to be able to set aside their feelings long enough to negotiate successfully. But if you and your spouse can still work together in good faith, one or both of them could be useful tools for you.