Understanding the Differences in Traditional Divorce, Mediation, and Collaboration

Each divorce is as unique as the marriage that precedes it, which is why several paths exist for divorcing couples to take. Understanding all of the available options is vital to making an informed decision on the type of divorce process that best fits each circumstance. The three primary avenues couples can take when divorcing are traditional divorce litigation, mediation, and collaboration.

Traditional divorce

Traditional divorce utilizes litigation and the court system to determine the terms of a couple’s divorce. This method does not always lead to time in the courtroom, as settlements can still be reached during the process. During traditional divorce, both parties do their own research, hire their own experts when applicable, and work through their own attorneys to negotiate.

In a courtroom setting, attorneys no longer work to negotiate, and a judge who does not know all of the intricate details surrounding the couple and the separation will make decisions regarding distribution of property, potential alimony, child custody, and other related issues. The level of detachment from the decision-maker can be positive or negative depending on the dynamics of each situation.

Litigation can become adversarial and is often costly, both financially and emotionally. Mediation is a strong alternative to litigating issues that are causing delays in negotiations and can be used to supplement the traditional divorce process.


In mediation, the couple agrees to work with a trained and certified impartial individual to guide both parties to a divorce agreement. The goal of mediation is to create productivity from conflict and empower both parties to take ownership over the terms of their divorce. Autonomy over the process is one of the major reasons divorcing couples might take this route. Divorce can often incite feelings of fear associated with litigation, and mediation works to replace that fear with fairness and respect between individuals.

Mediation can be more cost and time effective than traditional divorce, and the outcome as delivered by the mediator can remain private, whereas litigation details may be public.

For families with children, mediation can be an effective option for coming to custody arrangements outside of the courtroom. In some places, mediation is a mandated part of the custody process, as it often helps parents keep their children out of the conflict in a way that fosters positive relationships within the family.

A mediator cannot advise participants and is charged with individually composing an agreement. Mediation decisions can be challenged, and if mediation fails then both parties can end up back where they began. Collaboration is similar to mediation, but with a few key differences.


Collaboration is founded on the idea that the courtroom is not meant for families. This method utilizes lawyers without the litigation that can come with traditional divorce. In a collaborative divorce, each individual has an advising attorney who is certified in collaborative practice by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Additional outside professionals can also be engaged during this process, including financial professionals, mental health specialists, and child specialists.

All parties and professionals meet together regularly to arrive at an agreement during collaboration, with the goal of harnessing productive discussion to make lasting decisions together with minimal negative impact. This process can cost less and move more quickly than other options. Collaborative practice excels in managing families with complicated finances and complicated emotional difficulties, including abuse.

If the collaborative process fails, the process ends and the parties must find new advising attorneys or select a different path.

Every divorcing couple should weigh the positives and negatives of each avenue of divorce before making an informed decision. Individuals must ask themselves tough questions about their family dynamics, their comfort level with communication with one another, their goals, and their children. The right representation can assist in helping couples answer these questions and make the most effective and productive decisions during this difficult time.

Questions about these processes? Contact Shafer Law Firm.

About the Author: Kyle M. Janes

Kyle grew up in Meadville and attended Meadville Area Senior High. He attended college at Allegheny College. Upon graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Kyle returned to Meadville to serve the community where he grew up.

Kyle has a diverse family law practice, including divorce, support, custody, juvenile dependency, adoption, pre-nuptial agreements, protection from abuse, and other domestic relations issues. His compassion for his clients and his knowledge of the law allow him to work on a full range of cases, from simple to complex.

This content is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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