What Is the Difference Between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce?

What Is the Difference Between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce?

Many divorcing couples turn to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods rather than going to court. Popular forms of ADR include mediation and collaborative divorce. Both tend to be cheaper, faster, less adversarial, more flexible, and more private than a court divorce. While mediation and collaborative divorce are similar, there are some key differences. Our Edmonton family lawyers may be able to help you decide if mediation or collaborative divorce is best for your situation.


Mediation involves bringing in a specially trained neutral third party, often a lawyer, to help divorcing couples resolve their issues outside of court. A family law mediator strives to facilitate an agreement between opposing parties on the primary issues of separation, which will later be submitted in court.  

A mediator guides couples through such common issues as child support, custody, parenting time, spousal support, and division of assets and debts. While mediators may not provide legal advice, they can help couples understand relevant legal consequences. 

Mediation requires both parties to be willing participants. As the process is voluntary, it may also be terminated at any time. For mediation to be most effective, it is beneficial to have a base level of trust and good faith between the divorcing parties, as they will each be relied upon to provide an honest account of their circumstances, including sharing financial statements. 

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation because it is a voluntary negotiation process designed to reach a consensus outside the Court system. However, in a collaborative divorce, rather than facilitation by a neutral third party, couples and their respective lawyers meet as a group to negotiate solutions. Additional experts, such as financial advisors, child psychologists, or coaches, are often included in the process. 

At the outset of collaborative divorce proceedings, each party signs an agreement stating they will do their best to reach an equitable settlement and will not go to court. If an agreement cannot be reached, or if one of the parties breaks the agreement and proceeds to court, each party must retain new counsel. 

Mediation vs Collaborative Divorce 

Mediation and collaborative divorce provide similar benefits to participants. As mentioned, both tend to be faster and less expensive than going to court. Other benefits include:

  • As both processes are voluntary, they can be terminated at any time without repercussion other than the time and expense of starting over.  
  • The informal setting, compared to court, is often less stressful and allows for more flexibility in finding solutions that work for each family’s unique circumstances. 
  • A focus on consensus-building rather than on “winners” and “losers” minimizes conflict in family relationships and is good practice for future problem-solving, especially where children are involved. 
  • Both processes are confidential, encouraging both parties to be more open and honest than they might be in a court setting. 

Mediation can be more flexible than collaborative divorce as there are typically fewer participants to accommodate. This can also make the process more efficient and less expensive – especially with fewer professionals to compensate. Collaborative divorce lawyers often belong to a collective group with rules and protocols that can limit what might be possible. 

Collaborative divorce may be more suited to those who prefer the individual guidance of a lawyer looking out for their best interests throughout the negotiation process. This can be especially helpful when a pre-existing power imbalance in a relationship undermines the confidence of one party to advocate for themselves, or if there are complex issues that require expert guidance. 

The primary drawback of collaborative divorce is that if it doesn’t work, you must start over with new counsel, causing additional expenses and delays. Similarly, if your mediator is not a litigator and the process fails, you must do the same. 

Contact Our Edmonton Family Lawyers Today for a Consultation

If you are considering a separation or divorce or need legal assistance on a family law matter, our Edmonton family lawyers would be happy to address your questions and help you understand your options. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and see how our family lawyers may be able to help you.

* Please note that the information in this article is not intended as legal advice but rather as a general overview of family law. If you are seeking legal advice, please consult with a lawyer.

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