If you and your spouse are contemplating ending your marital status in the Tacoma area, it is important to keep in mind that there are several legal approaches to do so. Deciding which path is optimal for your specific scenario is dependent on a number of factors, including: shared goals between the two sides, your financial arrangements, and (perhaps most importantly) the willingness of each party to be cooperative throughout each stage of the divorce process. It may be the case that you and your spouse are involved in a complex and highly contentious dispute, or, alternatively, you may be able to approach the divorce in a positive way with the shared mindset of advancing mutually beneficial goals. Regardless of your unique set of circumstances, being aware of the available legal options can be beneficial in avoiding or reducing potential conflicts and the detrimental impact to children, expenses, and time as you work through the divorce process.
What’s the Difference between Mediation and Collaboration?
While mediation and collaboration are closely related processes, there are some key differences between the two approaches. Neither is necessarily going to be the best or worst option across the board. It is entirely dependent on the circumstances of your individual case as well as your personal preferences and the suitability and availability of competent mediators and attorneys in your area. Here’s a quick look at each option that might influence your decision when weighing the two.
Mediation vs. Collaboration – Distinguishing Characteristics:
- Neutral third-party (the mediator) structures the negotiation process.
- Mediator has no authority to decide the case.
- Attorneys may or may not be involved.
- Spouses each hire an attorney trained in the collaborative process.
- Spouses and their respective lawyers sign a “no court” document, meaning that the parties agree to handle all negotiations outside of court, avoid contested court proceedings, and the attorneys agree to withdraw if the case proceeds to court.
- Spouses and their legal representatives negotiate in four-way sessions, without the presence of a third party neutral..
That’s the basics of what the main differences between mediation and collaboration are. Here’s a closer look at each as well as the pros and cons of each process to take into consideration.
During mediation (also referred to as a “structured negotiation”), spouses conduct negotiation sessions with a designated mediator to cooperatively formulate a legally enforceable divorce agreement. The mediator’s role is to organize the mediation in such a manner that maximizes the chances of the couple successfully constructing an agreement they both consent to be bound to, post-divorce. The typical mediation process is composed of five steps: introductory, information gathering, framing, negotiating, and concluding. While these steps generally take place in sequential order, you may find that you will have to cycle back through the different phases before accomplishing a final agreement on all the issues covered during the negotiation process. The length of each stage and the number of mediation sessions required to complete them are dependent on the number and complexity of the circumstances associated with your case, including: property division concerns, allocating debt, determining spousal support, and child custody and support calculations.
- Flexibility & Control: Mediation can potentially offer a greater degree of flexibility as opposed to collaboration. For one, there are only three required participants: you, your spouse, and the neutral third party mediator. While you have the option of bringing in other professionals as needed, you are not required to have attorneys involved like in collaboration.
- Time & Expenses: Mediation may be more time efficient and less costly than collaboration. From a purely logistical perspective, coordinating the itineraries of four individuals (two of whom are lawyers with inherently hectic schedules) is difficult and time-consuming, potentially making the process last longer and be more expensive for both sides. However, that is only the case if the parties decide not to have attorneys represent them. If attorneys are involved, then the cost will likely be higher than collaboration (as now a third professional is being added to the cost).
- Confidentiality: Some jurisdictions, including Washington, have established statutes to safeguard the confidentiality of divorce mediation proceedings.
- If you fail to reach an agreement in mediation, you may need to start the process anew – essentially “losing” the money and time you devoted to the mediation process. Additionally, if the mediation is not successful, you and your partner may be tempted to entirely abandon the cooperative route and the process may become more contentious, leading to formal litigation.
Collaborative divorce offers you the autonomy of selecting your own lawyer while still enabling you to cooperate with your spouse in order to finalize a divorce agreement you both can agree on. In a collaborative divorce, you and your spouse each retain a specialized legal practitioner who then advises and helps you during negotiations on issues such as property division, spousal support, child support, and custody. As part of a collaborative divorce, each spouse and their lawyer sign a no court stipulation that mandates you will cooperate to settle the case independently. And in the case that you are unsuccessful in doing so, then the attorneys will withdraw before the case proceeds to court. This would mean that each party would have to hire a new lawyer for trial – a strong financial incentive to make the collaborative approach result in an agreement.
Collaborative Divorce Pros:
- Access to Expert Legal Advice: If you require the constant legal advice of an attorney who is working to protect your rights and interests during each stage of the process, then a collaborative divorce may be ideal.
- Compensating for a Power Imbalance: If the relationship with your spouse has a distinct power imbalance for whatever reason – such as a significant gap in education, finances, etc. – you may prefer the additional protection of having your own lawyer to help compensate for the difference and make the negotiation a more equitable and productive affair.
Collaborative Divorce Cons:
- Less Flexible: Collaborative attorneys often stick to a predetermined, fixed schedule and structure when it comes to conducting negotiations – offering you little autonomy in terms of the order in which you address issues and how you go about doing so.
- Potentially More Costly: If the collaborative divorce is unsuccessful, your attorneys will be forced to withdraw and you and your spouse must each hire new legal counsel if the case proceeds to trial – a costly risk to consider when considering a collaborative divorce.
- Confidentiality: Washington has adopted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, which safeguards the confidentiality of divorce mediation proceedings.
Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S.: Dedicated Tacoma Family Law Attorneys
Our Tacoma family law attorneys continue to successfully help individuals navigate the many legal issues that can arise with respect to all things family-law related, including deciding which divorce approach best suits your situation. We’ve been doing this for more than 35 years and understand that these times may be some of the most difficult experiences that our clients face. We never forget that this is more than just a legal case file to those we represent. The outcome of a mediation, trial, or negotiation session can change lives – our clients’ lives and the lives of their children. We never take that for granted. Through years of education, experience, and successful outcomes, we benefit our clients in a number of ways. We hope you let us help.
Please contact our Tacoma family law firm for more information on how we can assist you in your family law matters. You can also find more information on the FAQ page. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you with your case.