Divorce Mediation vs. Lawyer: Which Option Is Best for Your Situation?

Both sides agree that it's time to consider divorce, but you've run into a roadblock. Perhaps you can't settle on child custody arrangements, or maybe you're struggling to set appropriate spousal support payments. Some couples settle these difficult questions in court. But other options exist. 

You could enter divorce mediation and discuss options with the help of an impartial third party. Or, you could hire a lawyer to negotiate with your partner's lawyer out of court, so you can settle your divorce without a court case. 

Here's how both options work, so you can make the right decision for your situation: 

4 key facts about mediation vs. hiring a lawyer 

Few lawsuits go all the way to trial. Most are settled by mutual agreement between the parties. 

Women initiate close to 70% of all divorces. Experts aren't sure why, but it's typical for women to file divorce documents with the court and serve their partners with paperwork. 

Arguing about money, especially early in the relationship, is closely tied to divorce. Couples who disagree about money while married will likely argue about this same issue during a divorce. 

Mediations end in agreement 70% to 80% of the time, and most people comply with the plans they've made. Lawyer-driven negotiations can have similar positive outcomes, especially when compared to embarking on a full court case. 

Divorce mediator or lawyer: What's the difference?

Both mediators and lawyers can help you settle disagreements with your spouse. Private conversations can help you define what you want, need, and will accept. Write those agreements down, and you can settle your divorce without arguing your case in a courtroom.

Mediators and lawyers have very different roles in the divorce process. Here's what you need to know:

How does divorce mediation work?

During divorce mediation, spouses enter a private conversation structured and supervised by an impartial third-party mediator. Couples hire the same person to help them, and they split the cost between them.

A mediator doesn't make recommendations or push couples into an agreement. Instead, this professional guides the conversation and encourages both sides to negotiate.

Mediation works best when both sides collaborate openly and honestly. The goal is to find solutions that work for both sides rather than allowing one person to "win" and the other to "lose." 

At the end of a successful mediation, couples draft up divorce agreements and file them with the court. If your state allows DIY divorce, mediation could help you push through problems and end your marriage while avoiding court altogether.

Both sides must agree to mediation's terms. If you can't agree, you can abandon mediation and go to court to end your marriage. 

How does hiring a lawyer help?

Most couples associate hiring a lawyer with litigating a divorce. While a lawyer can help you argue for your side in front of a judge, you can also use a lawyer to help you untangle the issues blocking your DIY divorce.

For example, you could hire a lawyer specifically for child custody cases, or you could hire a lawyer to help you distribute property evenly in a divorce. 

Lawyers collaborate on settlements for their clients, and they are biased. Your lawyer works only for you, not for the other party. If you tell your lawyer you want full control over the family home with no exceptions, that's what your lawyer will fight for in settlements with the other side. 

Your lawyers can discuss terms independently, and if so, they will return to outline the arrangements they've reached. Lawyers can also hold large meetings with all parties involved. 

You're not required to accept any settlement your lawyer presents, but if you don't agree with any of them, you could be headed to court to argue for your side in front of a judge. 

Divorce mediators vs. lawyers: Breaking down the differences 

Both mediators and lawyers are trained professionals with years of experience in handling divorce cases. Important differences concerning their fees, expertise, and roles separate them. 





Less expensive

More expensive

People involved



Your role

Communicator and negotiator

Behind the scenes, guiding your lawyer

Professional's role



Time to complete

1–2 sessions


What happens next?

Written agreement or lawsuit

Written agreement or lawsuit 


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average mediator makes about $24 per hour, and the average lawyer makes about $61 per hour. But divorce lawyers often charge hundreds of dollars per hour. Your mediator's work could be done within just a few hours, but lawyers often need more time to craft structured settlements for their clients. 

In general, expect to pay substantially more for a lawyer than you would for a mediator. 

Professionals involved 

Mediation is a private conversation between three people: two spouses and a mediator. No one else is allowed within the mediation space. 

Lawyers might ask experts (like accountants or therapists) to file supporting documents to entice the other person to collaborate. Sometimes, all parties come together in big meetings. And sometimes, lawyers talk alone. 

Your role 

Mediation is hard work for divorcing couples. You must enter the conversation with clear ideas about what you want, what you'll accept, and what is unacceptable. During the conversation, you must find common ground with your partner.

A lawyer must hear about your wants and needs, but this professional does all of the hard work for you. It's rare for people to speak with their partners or collaborate on solutions when lawyers are involved. 

Your professional's role 

A mediator is an impartial party hired by both sides in a divorce. A mediator doesn't propose solutions or push people into taking a deal. Instead, this person helps both parties to communicate and collaborate. 

A lawyer is contractually obligated to act only on your behalf. This person can explain how the law works and why your case is strong or weak. A lawyer can use this same information to push the other side to agree with you. 

Time to completion

Mediation is typically completed in one or two sessions. Lawyers often need more time, but how much time depends on your case and the complexity of your situation. 

What happens next?

Whether you hire a mediator or a lawyer, you could come to written agreements that end your marriage. If either conversation breaks down, you must go to court to settle your differences. 

If your mediation breaks down like this, you must hire a lawyer. But in some cases, the same lawyer negotiating your case can work with you in a courtroom so you don't have to start over. 

When should you use a divorce mediator?

Divorce mediation can be a powerful tool that helps you end your marriage quickly and collaboratively. 

Mediation works best for couples who fit these criteria:

  • They communicate clearly. 
  • They are ready to collaborate and negotiate.
  • They have just a few points of disagreement.


When should you use a lawyer?

While lawyers are more expensive and often need more time, they can be very helpful for some couples. 

Lawyers are best for couples who meet these criteria:

  • They do not want to collaborate. They want to feel like they “won.” 
  • They have one or two points of disagreement but want to stay out of court.
  • They are unwilling or unable to work directly with their partner. 

Choose the best option for you

Both lawyers and mediators can help you to divorce amicably so you can stay out of court while ending your marriage fairly. Both options have benefits and drawbacks. 

Take your time to determine which choice is right for you and your marriage. It’s a decision that will have a big impact on the time, cost, and overall stress of your divorce.

Watch: Your Top Divorce Mediation Questions, Answered by Erin Levine



How Courts Work: Steps in a Trial. (September 2019). American Bar Association. 
Women More Likely Than Men to Initiate Divorces, But Not Non-Marital Breakups. (August 2015). American Sociological Association. 
Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce. (September 2012). Family Relations. 
How Courts Work: Mediation. (September 2019). American Bar Association. 
How Can the Legal Profession Increase Party Satisfaction with the Mediation Process (Whether or Not a Settlement Was Reached)? (July 2019). American Arbitration Association. 
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators. (October 2022). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
Lawyers. (September 2022). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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.