Divorce Litigation vs. Mediation: Which Is Best for You?
- Divorce mediation vs. lawyer
- Breaking down litigation vs. mediation
- When should you use a divorce mediator
- When should you use a lawyer
- Choose the best option for your situation
It’s difficult to know how many marriages end in divorce, but most experts say less than half of couples choose to split after they say, “I do.” Ending a marriage is a complicated process, and couples must find their own way forward. Two common methods exist: mediation and litigation.
Litigation and mediation can help couples work through difficulties and end their marriage amicably. Either could be right for you. We’ll walk through the similarities and problems to help you decide.
Divorce mediation vs. lawyer: What’s the difference?
It's not easy to split your estate, create parenting plans and schedules, and distribute debt during a divorce. Both mediation and litigation can help you solve these issues fairly, but the processes are a little different.
How does divorce litigation work?
There are more than 57,000 family law and divorce lawyers in the United States. If you're moving forward with divorce litigation, you must hire a professional to help you, and your partner must hire their own lawyer.
Your lawyer can do the following:
- Prepare your divorce paperwork
- Serve documents to your spouse
- Respond to paperwork from your spouse
- Set a court date
- Prepare witnesses and expert testimony
- Tackle research on your assets and debts
- Speak for you in court
Divorce litigation can take a long time. Plenty of steps are involved, and skipping one is impossible. But at the end of a divorce trial, all questions about your estate will be resolved.
How does mediation work?
Close to 9,000 people work as mediators in the United States, and some lawyers perform mediation, too. If you're interested in mediation, you and your partner must choose the same mediator to help you end your marriage.
Mediation typically involves one or several meetings between a couple and their mediator. The mediator is an impartial third party who doesn't create plans or force couples to accept terms. Instead, this person works as a facilitator, encouraging couples to find common ground.
Couples who can't come to terms in mediation can always go to divorce litigation. In fact, if the conversation dissolves, the mediator may recommend this route.
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Breaking down divorce litigation vs. mediation
Is litigation or mediation right for you? Learn more about each process in detail to help you decide between your options.
# of people involved
At least 5
None; the lawyer must fight for you
Required; the mediator works for you both
Fast or slow?
Court ruling; winners and losers are possible
Signed agreement due to compromise
Price differences between mediation and litigation are stark. Since mediation can be fairly quick and involves fewer people, it's often the less expensive option.
The median cost of an American divorce is $7,000. A private divorce mediation could cost around $3,000. And some states offer free forms of mediation to low-income couples.
Number of professionals involved
Mediation involves just three people: the spouses and the mediator. The process is intimate and private, and outsiders are not allowed.
Divorce litigation involves at least five people: the spouses, their lawyers, and a judge. But couples can call witnesses as part of the case, including the following:
- Family members
Divorces happen in public spaces, including open courtrooms. Mediation is always private, and conversations typically happen in conference rooms. Private individuals are motivated to keep their divorce out of the courtroom.
Both parties hire the same mediator to help them end their marriage. This person works as an impartial third party with no invested interest in either outcome.
In divorce litigation, both parties hire lawyers. Each lawyer is bound to protect the interests of their client. They cannot factor in what the other person might want or need.
Time to completion
Mediation conversations are typically measured in hours. Some couples can finish their discussion within just one meeting.
Divorce litigation is lengthy. Lawyers need time to prepare, and cases can drag on in court. It's not unusual for couples to battle for months to end their marriages via litigation.
The final outcome
Both litigation and mediation can end your marriage. But a lawyer can fight hard for your position alone, which could allow you to get exactly what you want. In mediation, you will compromise with your spouse and potentially give away something you want.
When should you use a divorce mediator?
Divorce mediation tends to work best for couples who fit these criteria:
- They want to end the divorce process quickly.
- They are ready to collaborate on solutions.
- They work together amicably.
- They communicate effectively.
- They share power evenly.
When should you use a lawyer?
Divorce litigation takes longer, but it's a good option for couples who meet these criteria:
- They cannot or will not collaborate.
- They have a history of violence or abuse.
- They don't communicate effectively.
- They disagree about everything.
Choose the best option for your situation
Both litigation and mediation are valid options to end your marriage. There's no shame in choosing one option over the other. Be open and honest about which option is right for you, and take the next step forward to end your divorce in the best way possible.
The Common Statistic That 'Half of Marriages End in Divorce' is Bogus. (February 2017). Insider.
Family Law and Divorce Lawyers and Attorneys. (July 2022). IBIS World.
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators. (October 2022). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost in 2022? (July 2022). Forbes.