While people generally associate divorce with dramatic conflict and bitter animosity, couples choose to separate for many different reasons, and divorce is anything but uncommon. According to the American Psychological Association, over 20% of first marriages in the U.S. end within five years, and 48% end within 20 years.

In many cases, spouses are less interested in settling scores than in moving on with their lives. Collaborative and mediated divorce are two alternative approaches that may help some couples minimize the time, expense and emotional toll of a court-fought process while working toward a mutually beneficial resolution.

Mediation

When divorcing spouses are willing to work together, a trained mediator may be able to help resolve issues by acting as a neutral third party. The mediator works on behalf of both partners simultaneously, providing them with legal guidance while helping them to come to a cost-effective, equitable agreement about child custody issues, child support, alimony, the division of property and other financial and family-related decisions.

Collaboration

Similar to mediation, in a collaborative divorce, spouses agree to work together toward a resolution without litigation. However, during collaboration, each spouse retains her or his own lawyer to advise and assist in negotiations. All parties involved agree to take a cooperative rather than adversarial approach to reaching a settlement, allowing for a communicative process that prioritizes mutual respect and problem-solving.

Strong foundations for the future

When a divorce case goes to court, the law constrains the types of settlement decisions the judge may make. Those outcomes are often not what either party had in mind. In addition to avoiding the expense and stress of litigation, taking a mediated or collaborative approach allows separating couples much more control over the outcome of their own divorce.

Neither of these options may be the best choice for spouses who have become irreconcilably estranged. However, these modern alternatives to traditional divorce offer a unique opportunity for those couples willing to put aside their differences while working toward a better future.