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The Difference Between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce in California


In California, mediation and collaborative divorce are types of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Both are increasingly popular choices among divorcing couples as they save time, money, and the emotional stress that is often inherent in a traditional adversarial, litigated divorce. Actually, ADR has been used in the United States since colonial times, although at that time, its function was to reconcile commercial, trade or property disputes. Today, ADR—whether through mediation or collaborative law­—gives couples a chance to work through their differences and disputes and resolve their issues, rather than having the judge make the decisions for them.

What are the advantages of mediation in California?

Mediation is sometimes referred to as facilitative ADR, since the role of the mediator is to act as a neutral advisor and referee. In mediation, both you and your spouse negotiate the terms of your divorce directly, while the mediator acts as a guide to help you reach agreement on property division, parenting plans, child support and spousal support. The process is a good alternative for spouses who can communicate and are committed to the process.

The advantages of mediation include:

  • You and your spouse have control: The goal of a mediated divorce is win-win, and when couples can reach agreement through negotiation, everybody is happier.
  • Less expensive: While you should have your own attorney look at whatever agreement you and your soon-to-be-ex have decided upon, you will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the cost of a litigated divorce.
  • Confidential: Since you are not airing your issues in court, the only person who is privy to what is discussed is the mediator.
  • Faster: As long as you and your spouse commit to bringing all documents requested by the mediator and to showing up to all meetings, mediations can often be wrapped up in a few months. Litigated divorces can take a year or more.
  • Easier on everybody involved, especially your children: When parents are less stressed and more able to communicate in a civil manner, there is less emotional turmoil for the children.

What are the advantages of collaborative divorce in California?

Like mediation, in a collaborative divorce you and your spouse agree to negotiate a settlement. The main difference is that each spouse has their own attorney, there is a financial neutral, divorce coach, and you, your spouse, and each of the professionals involved take part in the negotiation process. Before any negotiations start, you and your spouse sign a written agreement to negotiate in good faith, to be honest and fair, and to disclose all required financial and other relevant documents. A hallmark of collaborative law is that if, once the process is underway, either you or your spouse decides to pursue litigation, both attorneys are required to withdraw from the case.

The advantages of collaborative divorce include:

  • Like mediation, the process is confidential and generally faster—and although attorneys and other professionals are directly involved, it is still less costly and less stressful than litigation.
  • For many, it offers peace-of-mind to have your own attorney present throughout the negotiation to act as your advisor and advocate.
  • Your attorney can also act as a buffer if you feel intimidated by your spouse.

What’s the right choice for you?

Chances are you still have many questions about what is best for you and your family. To learn more about collaborative law and mediation, please call us at 559-324-5427 in Fresno or 858-285-4315 in San Diego, or contact us online to schedule a confidential appointment with Fresno and San Diego family law attorney Rebecca Medina.

Rebecca MedinaAbout the Author: Rebecca Medina

Rebecca Medina is an experienced Family Law attorney, mediator and Collaborative Divorce Lawyer serving the Fresno and San Diego areas. She handles cases ranging from complex divorce matters to child custody, spousal support, prenuptial/postnuptial agreements, QDROs and uncontested divorce cases. She was rated “Clients’ Choice” by Avvo.

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