Collaborative Divorce vs. Mediation

Collaborative divorce and divorce mediation are similar. In both cases, spouses agree on the specific terms of their divorce outside of the courtroom. Both approaches can help you avoid court and probably the need to hire lawyers to end your marriage.

But important differences separate them, including cost, expertise, and timeframes. Understanding those differences is critical, so you can make the choice that’s right for you and your family.

Every divorce is different, and the option that's right for you could be wrong for someone else. Here’s what you need to know as you look for the ideal way forward.

Key facts about divorce and mediation 

  • In 1990, one Minneapolis lawyer refused to remain part of a divorce if the couple couldn't agree and took the case to court. This incident is widely regarded as the original case for collaborative law.
  • An estimated 20,000 trained collaborative lawyers work in the United States and Canada. 
  • About 8,900 arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators were working in the United States in 2021.
  • Few states require a law degree to become a court-approved mediator. Most require some kind of approved training, and some ask people to work under trained mediators before taking their own cases.

Collaborative divorce vs. mediation: What's the difference?

Collaborative divorce and divorce mediation are two pathways that lead to the end of a marriage. Neither requires a trip to divorce court and when handled properly, both can lead to a satisfying distribution of your estate and settlement of your affairs.

Here's what you need to know about both options:

Collaborative divorces spring from collaborative law — a voluntary dispute resolution process. Both parties agree to work together respectfully and honestly to reach an agreement without going to court. 

Each person in a collaborative divorce hires a trained lawyer. Everyone comes together to do the following:

  • Identify problems 
  • Collaborate on solutions
  • Plan for the future 

Sometimes, other professionals (like accountants or financial planners) must come to meetings to address specific issues. And sometimes, cases take a long time to resolve due to scheduling conflicts, contentious relations, or uncooperative parties. 

Collaborative divorce lawyers can't represent spouses in a courtroom. If the spouses go to court, they need to secure new representation. Typically, this rule keeps parties tightly focused on coming to an agreement, as hiring a new lawyer can be both expensive and time-consuming.

What is divorce mediation? 

During divorce mediation, couples hire one person to work as a facilitator and guide. That professional remains impartial and can't force either side to any terms. But this person can help people communicate effectively and resolve even touchy issues (like child support).

Divorce mediation is private, and conversations include just the couple and the mediator. Anyone can bring supporting documents to clarify a position. In fact, it's common for people to bring information with them to their meetings, including these things:

  • Credit card statements
  • Proposed child visitation schedules
  • Home assessments 
  • Checking account balance statements

Mediation sessions tend to be focused and efficient. Often, couples need just a few hours together to come to terms with the details of their divorce.

Breaking down the differences between collaborative divorce and mediation

While both collaborative divorce and divorce mediation can help you end your marriage amicably, these options are very different. This quick table shows you those differences at a glance:


Collaborative divorce

Divorce mediation


Can be expensive, especially if many experts are required

Usually less expensive than a collaborative divorce

People involved

Two lawyers and outside experts (if needed)


Role of each party 

Lawyers advocate exclusively for their clients, not the other party

Mediators are impartial third parties

Number of sessions

Multiple, especially in complex divorces

Often just one session is required

What if you can't agree?

Couples must hire new lawyers before going to court

Couples must hire lawyers before going to court 


Both mediators and collaborative divorce lawyers charge by the hour. The longer you spend in negotiations, the more you'll spend on your divorce. 

But collaborative divorce is typically more expensive due to the following:

  • Expertise: Collaborative divorce lawyers have extensive education, and they can charge a lot per hour. Mediators don't spend as long in school, and in some states, they don't need a bachelor’s degree at all. They tend to charge less as a result.
  • Time: Multiple meetings are required in a collaborative divorce, while mediation often moves much quicker. 

Number of professionals involved

Divorce mediation is a private conversation between a couple and a trained mediator. These three people come together to agree on divorce terms in private sessions that often don't include anyone else. 

Collaborative divorces work a little like court cases with witnesses presenting data and expert information. Some meetings involve multiple experts, all discussing what should happen during the next phase of life. 

Role of the professionals  

Divorce mediators are impartial. They work with both parties equally, and they don't advocate for one position over another. 

Collaborative divorce professionals are legally required to advocate for their clients alone. They are not impartial parties. 

Number of sessions 

Collaborative divorces can be lengthy, and it’s not unusual for couples to meet multiple times to sort out all of the issues. Some couples complete the mediation process in one meeting that lasts several hours. 

The final outcome

Both collaborative divorces and divorce mediation can end in divorce, but both can fail. If they do, couples must get lawyers to represent them in court.

The stakes are slightly higher in collaborative divorce. Couples must find new lawyers, bring them up to speed, and start over again. This is a very difficult process for many people. 

What are the pros and cons?

Collaborative divorce and divorce mediation are both beneficial ways to stay out of the courtroom and on good terms with your spouse. You’ll avoid the stress of a long court case, and you’ll keep your differences very private.

A divorce mediation comes with unique benefits, including cost and time savings. 

A collaborative divorce’s benefits include the ability to bring in experts to plead your case. Sometimes, these people have unique viewpoints, and they can protect your interests better than you can alone. You’ll have a guide throughout this process, and you might feel better knowing they are leading the way. Experts, such as financial experts, can technically hash out complex financial issues and then go into mediation, but it isn’t common.

Which option is right for you?

If you have a decent relationship with your spouse, divorce mediation could be a good option for you. You can both save time and money, and work through difficult issues together in a quick and efficient process.

If you have a complex case or a combative relationship with your spouse, a collaborative divorce could be a better choice for you. 



Collaborative Law. (June 2021). Legal Information Institute. 
Judges Love Collaborative Law: Here's Why. (July 2018). American Bar Association.
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators. (October 2022). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
Court-Certified Mediator Qualification Requirements by State. (May 2021). Online Master of Legal Studies Programs. 
Collaborative Law. Superior Court of California, County of Riverside. 
Resolve Your Divorce or Separation Out of Court. Judicial Branch of California.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.