There is no bright line test when choosing between Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce.
However, examining the following six factors will be helpful in making a good decision:
1. How important to you is having a “good divorce?”
The primary difference between Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce is the level of support you will get while negotiating. Collaborative Divorce offers greater support in ensuring not only that the parties reach agreement, but that they do so in a good, thorough way. How concerned are you that you might end the process without fully understanding the legal ramifications? Is it important to you to express your needs clearly and feel heard and are you open to hearing your spouse do the same? Will it be beneficial if your spouse and you hear from a child specialist in order to feel confident that the children’s needs are being addressed appropriately? How important is it to you that you look back on this chapter of your life confident that you behaved honorably and made good decisions for both yourself and your children?
If these things are important to you, Collaborative Divorce is going to offer greater support in achieving those ends. If you believe what is needed is to “tear off the Band-Aid” and get it over with, then the benefits of Collaborative Divorce will not be important to you.
2. Do you have enough income or assets available to pay for a collaborative team?
There are many ways to control costs in Collaborative Divorce, such as ensuring that each step of the process is being done by the most qualified Collaborative Professional for that task (e.g., addressing communication issues with your coach rather than your attorney, etc.). But there is no doubt that Collaborative Divorce is likely to be more expensive than Divorce Mediation because there is a team of professionals involved. It is important to be realistic about what you can afford. No-one benefits by starting the Collaborative Divorce process only to have it grind to a halt due to a lack of resources.
3. How adversarial are you and your spouse and do you have a history of resolving your conflicts?
Have no doubt that an experienced mediator can help combative couples resolve the difficult issues that arise in any divorce. But an adversarial couple with little history of compromise or mutually satisfactory discussions will benefit from the greater support that Collaborative Practice provides. If the issues are complex, the heightened emotions created by a highly adversarial relationship can make it very difficult for you to think clearly and make quality decisions. The greater support that a Collaborative Practice team can provide helps reduce the emotional triggers that exist in adversarial relationships, as well as providing greater support in clarifying the choices being made under difficult circumstances.
4. How complex is your financial situation?
An experienced mediator can assist you in understanding the financial complexities of issues that are commonly addressed in a divorce. But the more complex the situation the more important it will be to utilize the support of a neutral financial professional. When there is a business involved, complex investments, or uncertainty about either party’s ability to live on the resources available, both parties will benefit from getting a clear understanding of the financial situation and the choices being made. One of the greatest inhibitors in reaching an agreement is the fear of making a mistake. The greater the clarity regarding the financial situation, the less the fear and the more likely the parties will reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.
5. How knowledgeable about your financial situation are both spouses?
It is not uncommon for one party to have a full understanding of the financial situation while the other party remains mystified by what the assets are, the income available, and the cost of living the lifestyle they have come to expect. It is also not unusual for the fully informed spouse to be frustrated and impatient with the other spouse’s lack of understand or unwillingness to “trust.” The education of the less informed spouse is an absolute necessity for the parties to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. The greater the disparity in financial understanding the more important the support offered by the Collaborative Divorce team will be.
6. Do you have difficult child custody issues to resolve?
It is impossible to put a price on the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the co-parenting plan you have agreed to is in the best interest of the children. Although the parenting arrangement may seem obvious to some couples, other couples have issues with their children that are challenging to even the most knowledgeable and well-balanced parents. Children with special needs, drug or alcohol addictions, video game addictions, or who are estranged from one parent represent especially difficult challenges. These challenges and the fear and anxiety they cause will intensify the struggle in resolving all other issues. When there are difficult parenting issues the greater support offered by a Collaborative Divorce team will greatly benefit both parties in reaching a parenting agreement that they can feel confident is addressing their children’s needs in the best way possible.
A divorce is one of the most difficult events you are likely to go through in life. The choices you make in which process to use are going to have a great and long-lasting impact on how you feel about this difficult event. If in doubt, I urge you to honor the importance and difficulty of this transition by obtaining the most support that you can.