Is Collaborative Divorce The Same As Mediation?

When I speak with people about my passion for Collaborative Divorce and how much it benefits families who are seeking a better path forward, I am almost always asked - “oh, that’s the same as mediation, right?”  Simply put, no.  It is not the same thing.

While mediation and Collaborative Divorce are often considered emotionally healthier and more fiscally sound alternatives to the traditional model of divorce, they are quite distinct from each other.

I remember, years ago, when I was feverishly studying the intricacies of the Collaborative process, I came across a California Collaborative divorce attorney, renowned for her expertise and devotion to this practice area.  Pauline Tesler described mediation and Collaborative Divorce as cousins – related, but definitely not the same.

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Mediation is a process where the couple hires one neutral person to assist them with working through unresolved marital issues and coming up with resolutions.

This mediator is not there to act as a judge, an arbitrator nor an attorney.  Even if the couple has chosen a divorce attorney to act as the mediator, this specialist is not acting in a legal capacity during mediation.  He or she may even suggest that the individuals obtain separate attorneys to sort through complex legal issues, to give legal advice or to draft the agreement.  During a mediation session, there are generally only three people in the room; the couple and the mediator.  Any additional work, from obtaining the financial documentation needed, to tracking down any legal paperwork, to addressing any needs of the children, is completed outside of the actual sessions.  Each party is on their own to do the legwork needed to ensure the process works smoothly.  If either party wants to stall the process or fails to continue to participate, there is little that can be done by the mediator.  Mediation is completely voluntary and requires the parties to be fully on board.  As a trained mediator myself, I believe whole-heartedly in the benefits it provides, yet it is not the right choice for everyone.

If a couple needs more guidance than mediation offers, and from my experience many couples do, Collaborative Divorce can be a better fit.

Collaborative offers a full team approach that is supportive, confidential and devoted to ensuring the couple has all of the resources they need to make informed choices for their family.  Each party has a separate attorney, there is a financial expert to help with budgets, retirement plans, business valuations, etc., and there is a family specialist who can assist with any possible communication breakdowns, ensuring the parties are being heard throughout the process and providing much needed insight into the needs of the children.  All of these professionals have been specially trained in the Collaborative model and all are committed to the family’s success at the time of the divorce and in the future.  Before the process begins, all participants agree to the three main principles; 1) neither side will go to court, 2) there will be full transparency throughout, and 3) they will work to do what is best for the entire family, not just themselves.  We have regular team meetings that focus on the immediate needs of the family and the future needs.  Because the Collaborative Divorce process is specialized to meet the particular family’s needs, not every meeting requires all team members to be present.  If the focus of the discussion is on the best academic program for the children, it may not be necessary to have the financial expert present.  If the focus is on selling a business then the family specialist may not be needed.  We assist the couple with gathering necessary information, sifting through documents and helping each party to understand the value of remaining in this process - for the benefit of the whole family.  The beauty of the Collaborative team is that the couple has continuous assistance throughout and they decide how to proceed. 

With all of the benefits that Mediation and Collaborative Divorce have to offer, including saving time and money, I see why the two are often confused.  But be warned.  Neither process is for the faint of heart.  In order to create a durable agreement that will last and protect your family, you must put in the hard work and sometimes endure emotionally challenging situations.  But with perseverance and the right support team, you can divorce with decency and certainty.

When you're ready for an alternative divorce solution, I'll provide you with the highest quality legal services which will empower you to make informed choices about what steps are best for you and your family.

To book your 30 minute free consultation, by appointment, in office or by telephone, please call me at 844-785-2900 or contact me through my website.

Elizabeth Vaz