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Mediation Compared to Collaborative Divorce

There has been a growing recognition over the past few decades that courtroom divorce, an adversarial process that pits husband against wife, is a dreadful and harmful method to resolve family disputes.  As a result, the Florida Supreme Court, like many other judicial bodies, declared that family matters needed “a system that provided nonadversarial alternatives and flexibility of alternatives; a system that preserved rather than destroyed family relationships;…and a system that facilitated the process chosen by the parties.”  In re Report of the Family Law Steering Committee, 794 So. 2d 518, 523 (Fla. 2001).

Two alternatives that have developed to fill this space are mediation and collaborative divorce.  As collaborative divorce is a relatively new option, and there exists much confusion – even among experienced family law practitioners – about the differences between these two methods of dispute resolution, this article looks to compare and contrast mediation and collaborative divorce.

Event versus Process

Mediation is generally a one-time meeting where the parties come together, along with a mediator, to attempt to settle disputes.  In Florida, the parties’ attorneys are also in the room, though other jurisdictions exclude attorneys.  The mediator is a neutral actor who does not have the power to force the parties into any type of settlement, but can only encourage them to reach an agreement.  A mediation conference will generally last from 3 to 8 hours or more.  If the parties cannot reach an agreement in that meeting, then they tend to go to court, usually multiple times.

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What Should I Tell The Kids About Our Divorce?

If you have children and are going through a divorce, your biggest concern is likely how your kids will be affected. When is the best time to tell your children, and how much should you share with them?

Your Children Will Know

Your children will know that something is going on, and leaving them in the dark may cause more apprehension and stress in them than just being upfront. Establish a united front early in the process, and tell your children together that you are separating. Assure them that while things will be different, everything will be okay. Alleviate their fears that your divorce is in any way their faults. Remind them often during the process that everything will fine and it is not their faults.

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Who Gets The Kids On Holidays?

The holidays are such a magical time of year, especially if you have children. But if you are going through a divorce, your family will need to establish new traditions. Holidays must now be split between two family units. Until the judge orders a holiday schedule or you and your ex reach an agreement about it, each party is usually equally entitled to a holiday. This can create a lot of stress during an already stressful, busy time of year.    So how do you determine how holidays should be split?

Mediation and Collaboration

If you choose a courtless divorce option like mediation or collaboration, professionals will assist you and your spouse in creating a holiday schedule that works best for both of you. It may be more important for your side of the family to celebrate certain holidays than it is for your spouse. Likewise, there are probably some holidays you don’t care about that are important to your ex. One or both of you may want to have the opportunity to travel during certain holidays. All of these matters can be addressed more thoroughly if you participate in a form of alternative dispute resolution than if you let the judge decide for you.

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Mosten: Is Your Divorce Lawyer Informing You?

If you are considering divorce, you likely think that whether you can have an amicable or collaborative divorce depends wholly on your spouse.  Certainly, the attitude and ability of your spouse to compromise has an effect, but in my experience the attorneys that you and your spouse choose has a much bigger impact.

Beginning A Litigation Divorce

If you and your spouse choose attorneys whose primary orientation is litigation, then there is a good chance that you will face a court battle.  Your litigation attorney will likely draft a petition for dissolution of marriage asking for everything, and then have a process server or sheriff’s officer serve your spouse.  These tactics are all intended to intimidate your spouse and get them to submit.

It should be no surprise that this usually elicits the opposite of the intended response.  Not willing to submit, your spouse hires a “bulldog lawyer,” and the battle is on.  Say goodbye to your children’s college saving.  Know that this money will now be going to your lawyers’ children’s college tuition.

Fortunately, there is a different way.

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Direnfeld: Settling Parenting Disputes Outside Court

Do you ever wonder how your divorce is affecting your children?  Do you sometimes think about how conflict may be affecting your own mental health, and your ability to effectively parent, or co-parent?

Gary Direnfeld is an internationally known social worker, speaker, and parenting expert based out of Ontario.  He has been an expert witness in many high conflict divorce trials, and yet he is a strong believer that the courtroom is a terrible forum for resolving divorce and parenting disputes.  In the following radio interview, Gary discusses why he believes parenting and divorce-related issues should be resolved outside of court:

You can find a partial transcript, slightly edited for clarity, below:

Roughly 80% of folks going through a separation or divorce are going to settle things between themselves.  They may have some 3rd party assistance.  Twenty percent are going to turn to the courts.  Less than 5%, even if turning to the courts, are going to go to trial.  Most matter settle ahead of a trial.  And then there is that small percentage, that 1, 2, or 3% that really tie up the courts’ time.  And I, for whatever reason, find myself heavily involved with those folks.

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High conflict parents turn to the court searching for release only to find that in many, many cases, litigation only exacerbates the problems.  It doesn’t resolve them.  And the reason for that is, in turning to the courts, it is often a race to the bottom.  I will prove my case by making you look worse than me, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of that.  So the other parent reciprocates in kind.  And then the “he said she said” escalates to such a pitch that it is hard to know one from the other.  

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Co-Mediation And Collaborative Mediation

There are many ways to resolve your divorce issues.  The most well-known option is courtroom divorce.  This is where the spouses spend years battling it out, finding ways to undermine one another.  In the end, a judge tells them who gets what property and where the kids sleep at night.  There is also mediation and collaborative divorce, private forms of dispute resolution.  But two less known methods for resolving your divorce are co-mediation and collaborative mediation.

Co-Mediation

Co-mediation is a way for you and your spouse to resolve disputes outside of court with two or more mediators.  Oftentimes, the mediators have different training and skillsets.  In the co-mediation that Family Diplomacy offers, one co-mediator is an attorney by training.  The other is a therapist or accountant by training.  The co-mediators do not provide legal or financial advice, nor do we engage in therapy.  Rather, in a series of face-to-face meetings, we help develop options that meet your legal, financial, and emotional needs.

Collaborative Mediation

In collaborative mediation, you and your spouse each have your own attorneys.  The attorneys can only represent you in private dispute resolution.  Accordingly, the attorneys spend no time, energy, or money on opposition research, preparing for trial, or encouraging you and your spouse to fight.  The collaborative attorneys provide their clients with legal advice so you can make-well informed decisions.  The neutral mediator or co-mediators help facilitate an agreement and keeps the process moving forward.

You and your spouse have the ultimate say in how you want to use your attorneys in collaborative mediation.  The attorneys can be by your side at each mediation meeting.  Alternatively, the attorneys do not attend mediation but instead provide you with advice outside of meetings or only once the mediator(s) draft up an agreement.  Still, another option is for the attorneys to attend some meetings (like ones focused on financial matters), but not other meetings (i.e., parenting plan discussions).

Co-Mediation and Collaborative Mediation

Co-Mediation and Collaborative MediationRachel Moskowitz, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with whom I frequently co-mediate, recently wrote an article for Commentator Magazine.  The article describes a case study in which we had a co-mediation that turned into a collaborative mediation.  You can find an excerpt of the article below.

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Collaborative Mediation

What is Collaborative Mediation?

If you are getting divorced, you want to move forward as peacefully, quickly, and cost-effectively as possible.  And so you should learn about collaborative mediation.

Mediation

Collaborative mediation is a combination of two forms of private dispute resolution: mediation and collaborative divorce.  In mediation, you meet face-to-face with your spouse along with a neutral mediator (or co-mediators).  The mediator does not decide issues for you.  Rather, the mediator is there to facilitate an agreement between you and your spouse.

What is said during mediation is private and confidential.  This means that statements or offers made in mediation cannot be used against you later in court.  This confidentiality is protected by the Florida Mediation Confidentiality and Privilege Act (Florida Statutes §§ 44.401-44.406).

Though the mediator can help you and your spouse reach an agreement, he or she cannot provide you with legal advice.  The mediator, for example, cannot tell you if you are making a good or bad deal.

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Co-Mediation Divorce Without Lawyers

Can I Divorce Without Lawyers?

Do you want to divorce without lawyers?  Are you and your spouse able to sit down together, but you need some help to figure out what you even need to address?  Are you okay going without legal advice, and you just want to get through the divorce as quickly, painlessly, and cost-effectively as possible?

Well, then, co-mediation can help you divorce without lawyers.

Co-Mediation Divorce Without Lawyers

In co-mediation, you and your spouse sit down face-to-face with two mediators: one with a legal background and one with a child and family dynamics background.

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Woody Mosten and Peacemaking Practice Trainers

Video: Woody Mosten Addresses Association for Conflict Resolution

Forrest (Woody) Mosten has been on the cutting edge of the law since the 1970s.  He has been a pioneer in the fields of unbundled legal services, mediation, and collaborative practice, and he has also authored the following books on these topics (you can order them here):

  • The Complete Guide to Mediation: The Cutting-Edge Approach to Family Law Practice (2d Edition, ABA, 2015) (with Elizabeth Scully)
  • Collaborative Divorce Handbook: Effectively Helping Divorcing Families Without Going to Court (Jossey-Bass, 2009)
  • The Mediation Career Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2001)
  • Unbundling Legal Services (ABA, 2000)

In 2011, Woody keynoted at the Association of Conflict Resolution.  You can find the video from part of the speech below:

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Video: Mediators Beyond Borders at United Nations

Mediation is not just for divorce.  It is a form of dispute resolution that is being used to help prevent and mitigate disputes and issues internationally, such as Colombia peacemaking initiatives and efforts to address climate change.

In the video below the jump, Tampa mediator and past president of Mediators Beyond Borders Lynn Cole, Esq., addresses the United Nations about the use of mediation internationally.  This address took place in May 2012.

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