Divorce Mediation vs. Arbitration: The Best Option for Divorce

Choosing between mediation and arbitration is a big step for spouses looking for the best way to handle their divorce. Understanding the details of these options can make your decision easier.

Mediation is like teaming up with a coach to 

guide you through your divorce together, 

while arbitration is like working against each other and 

letting a referee make decisions for you.

This article will compare these two paths. It’ll show you how they work and reveal which approach can make things easier and help you save money. You’ll discover how to choose the best path to make the journey simpler and smoother for everyone involved.

Mediation vs. arbitration vs. litigation

When spouses decide to divorce, there are three main paths they can take:

  • mediation,
  • arbitration, and
  • litigation.

Each option has benefits and challenges. Let’s look at them in detail so that you can choose the one that’s best for your situation.

What is mediation?

Mediation offers a collaborative approach to divorce. You’ll sit down with a professional mediator whose goal is to help you and your spouse talk things through calmly and respectfully. In mediation, you and your spouse make all final decisions about your divorce. No one else makes those choices for you.

In contrast, in litigation, a judge makes the final decisions for you in court–without knowing your family the way you do. This means that you and your spouse will likely be dissatisfied with the decisions made on your behalf.

The judge’s decision might not fit with what you or your kids need, especially when it comes to how custody might be shared and specific issues such as who lives where and when.

In mediation, your mediator guides you both and creates a comfortable environment where you can talk openly. These guided open discussions result in finding creative solutions. Often the solutions you arrive at are ones you haven’t thought of before. Reaching mutually beneficial agreements is especially important when kids are involved. Practicing reaching agreement can make co-parenting easier moving forward.

Mediation is successful even when spouses are experiencing a significant amount of conflict.

Talking about dividing time, property, and material things in mediation eases your stress and strain. It can make the whole divorce process a lot less nerve-racking.

That’s the magic of mediation — it turns hard conversations into helpful ones

This is an image of a field of wildflowers in sunlight.

For more information on mediation, check out our FAQ.

What is arbitration?

In arbitration, you don’t have to go to a public courtroom to settle your divorce. However, it’s important to note that you also don’t make the final decisions.

Imagine that you and your spouse have different ideas about how to solve a disagreement. Instead of figuring it out yourselves, you each share your perspectives with the arbitrator. The arbitrator then acts as a private judge, making the final decisions.

This process happens in a quiet place, away from the noise and eyes of others. This makes it easier to share information on sensitive topics. Though it is important to keep in mind that the arbitrator’s decision is final. You’re agreeing to follow the plan that the arbitrator makes.

Spouses might choose arbitration because it promises a clear decision provided for them in the end. It’s a way to get a solution when talking things through is not possible. Remember, in arbitration, the goal is to reach a fair decision quickly and privately.

Mediation and arbitration are two popular methods of alternative dispute resolution. They are faster, less expensive, and less stressful than the public ordeal of litigation.

What is litigation?

Litigation is when spouses decide to go through their divorce in court. It requires hiring lawyers and spending more time and money. Most spouses want to avoid this option when they discover they can take a healthier approach.

You might think going to court involves having a jury listen and make decisions about your divorce. But a jury trial is very rare. In most places, a judge makes all the big decisions. Only 11 states have jury-supported divorce litigation.

Since lawyers play a big part in the litigation process, the costs can add up quickly. Lawyers often charge a large retainer upfront and then bill by the hour, so arguments over who gets what can end up costing more than the items themselves. Plus, unlike the confidentiality of mediation meetings, everything said in court becomes public record. When this happens, anyone can find out the details of your divorce through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Court battles often turn into arguments rather than discussions. A lawyer’s job is to fight for their client. This can be hard on everyone involved, especially if you’d like a peaceful process for the sake of your kids.

This is why litigation is usually seen as the last option, after mediation and arbitration.

This is an image of a forest trail in springtime.

The truth is, the old way of settling things in court is not the healthiest path through divorce. The quicker and kinder approach is mediation.

How does divorce mediation work?

Divorce mediation creates a comfortable environment for spouses to be open and honest. It encourages discussion so that both sides can move forward with their lives in a healthy way.

Here’s what you can expect in divorce mediation, step-by-step:

  1. Start with a free consultation: Here, you’ll learn how the mediation process works. All Aurit Center Certified Mediators offer a free online consultation to better understand your needs and answer your questions.
  2. Choose a mediator: You and your spouse will select a mediator you are both comfortable working with and trust.
  3. Think about what you really want: Consider what’s important to you and where you’d be willing to compromise. Having an open mind and trying to understand your spouse’s perspective makes a huge difference.
  4. Talk it out: You’ll share your perspectives and needs with one another, with the mediator’s help. The open conversations ensure that you both feel heard and understood.
  5. Make the agreement official: Once you reach agreement, the mediator prepares a contract. When you both sign it,a judge approves it, the contract is legally binding and enforceable in court.
  6. Process the paperwork: Your documents are submitted to the court, for the judge’s review and approval.

It’s important to note that a mediator won’t rush you into making decisions. The goal is to find solutions at your own speed. In removing that time pressure, the focus is on cooperation rather than conflict.

Divorce mediators recognize that divorce comes with many complicated feelings. Working at your own pace provides the space to handle those emotions thoughtfully. Everyone’s needs and hopes are respected. This is especially helpful when it comes to decisions about children. Divorce mediation allows co-parents to work together for the best outcomes.

How much does divorce mediation cost?

The cost of divorce mediation varies depending on the complexity of the situation. That being said, it is far less expensive than typical arbitration or litigation costs.

At The Aurit Center, we make things easier with our flat-fee approach. This means that you’ll know the total cost of your mediation process upfront, at your free consultation. No guessing at costs and no surprises down the line. Payment options are also available to spread the costs out over time.

This is an image of a small child running in the grass.Litigation, on the other hand, could cost you up to $500 per hour (or more) for attorney fees. And that’s for each spouse. Attorney fees average $10,000 to $50,000 per person, and in many cases exceed $100,000.

Attorneys often charge a large retainer up front, and bill against that hourly, so spouses may need to replenish the retainer multiple times. As long as the case goes on, divorce attorney fees continue to grow.

Choosing mediation means picking a path that’s easier on your wallet and kinder to everyone involved.

How does arbitration work?

Arbitration is another way to solve divorce disagreements without going to court.

Here’s a simple look at what happens in the arbitration process:

  1. Getting started: The spouses choose an arbitrator. If they are unable to agree, a court may help them choose. Arbitrators are typically retired judges or divorce attorneys.
  2. Setting the rules: Everyone involved agrees on the rules and how long the process will take. Once decided, an arbitration agreement is signed, and the process begins.
  3. Telling your story: Each spouse (or their attorney) has a chance to share their side of the story. They can present any proof they have to back up these statements. You can see that this process pits the spouses against one another.
  4. Making a decision: The arbitrator then decides how to resolve the issues. Since arbitrators have legal knowledge, they base their decisions on the law.

The arbitration process is less formal than going to court. For example, ‌rules for gathering evidence, called “discovery,” are more flexible.

In some states, arbitration requires each spouse to have a family law attorney. These attorneys provide legal advice and present arguments for their clients. In others, clients can represent themselves, and present their own arguments.

With arbitration, the situation rests on spouses working against each other instead of collaborating to reach agreements that work for them both. The decision of the arbitrator is legally binding, with little or no chance to appeal.

Since arbitration decisions are final and can affect your rights, some people might prefer an attorney make the case for their proposed divorce agreement.

Arbitration can take time, although it can be quicker and more private than a lengthy court battle. It’s a path chosen by people looking for someone to make decisions for them.

How much does divorce arbitration cost?

The cost of divorce arbitration can vary. Although it is likely less expensive than litigation, it is generally much more expensive than mediation.

Hourly rates depend on the specific arbitrator. And remember, you may each need a lawyer to help with the evidence and present your arguments. This will add more to your bill — up to hundreds of dollars an hour.

This is an image of a child pushing a toy car on the grass.Arbitration can help solve disagreements. Remember to think about how complex your situation is and how that might affect the final costs. That way, you can make the best choice for your family’s needs and budget.

Mediation vs. arbitration: pros and cons

When spouses need to decide how to move forward separately, they often choose between: mediation and arbitration. Both options help keep private matters out of the public courtroom. However, they take different routes to get you to a resolution.


Mediation is all about being guided to work through divorce peacefully.

Mediation pros:

Let’s look at the benefits of mediation:

  • It is private: Only you, your spouse, and the mediator know what’s said.
  • You both get equal say: You and your spouse have a say, making the final plan something both parties are more likely to stick to.
  • You get to talk things out: Mediation focuses on guided conversation. It can turn a tough situation into something manageable.
  • It is quick and cost-effective: Mediation typically takes around three months to complete. Aurit Center Certified Mediators offer a flat fee to support your financial stability, now and into the future. Traditional litigation and even arbitration cost much more because of hourly lawyer fees.
  • You can choose your mediator: Together, you and your spouse can pick your mediator. A free consultation is your chance to choose someone you trust, who will remain neutral.
  • It has less emotional toll: You don’t have to fight to divorce. Mediation is about finding a middle ground so it is less emotionally draining than arbitration.
  • You make decisions that work for both you and your kids: Mediation results in mutually beneficial agreements that your mediator helps you reach. With other methods, someone else makes the decisions (like the arbitrator or the judge).

Mediation cons:

There are also a few cons to consider in mediation:

  • It is not for everyone: Mediation might not be the right choice if one of the spouses has been abused by or is afraid of the other.
  • It requires the spouses to agree to mediate: In some states, both spouses must agree to go the mediation route.

Mediation is about reaching common understanding. This makes it an appealing option for families looking to minimize conflict and protect everyone’s well-being.


Arbitration introduces a decision-maker into the mix. They make the tough calls after hearing both spouse’s sides.

This is an image of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.Arbitration pros:

Here are a few benefits of arbitration:

  • It is private: What happens in arbitration stays out of the public eye, just like in mediation.
  • What’s decided sticks: The arbitrator’s decision is final, so you can move on with clarity.
  • It is simpler than going to court: Arbitration is a less formal way to resolve disputes. It can be quicker than court, too.
  • One or both spouses agree on who will arbitrate: You and your spouse decide who the arbitrator will be. This gives you both a say in who will make the decisions for you.

Arbitration cons:

Arbitration comes with challenges to consider:

  • The spouses have no say in the outcome: The arbitrator has the final say. This might leave you feeling like you didn’t get to tell your whole story.
  • The spouses do not work together: It’s more about the two of you (or more likely, both your attorneys) presenting opposing sides.
  • Costs can add up: Even though you don’t go to court, representing yourself can be risky. You might each prefer a family lawyer to make your case. Some states require them. Lawyer fees can get expensive.

Whether mediation or arbitration is the right path for you depends on what you value most. Would you prefer agreeing on solutions, or having someone else make the decisions for you?

Think about what’s most important for you and your family’s future. Remember, choosing a path that encourages respect and understanding can help everyone feel better about the new start.

Can you combine mediation and arbitration?

In some cases, you can use both mediation and arbitration. This process is called med-arb.

The med-arb process starts with mediation as the first step. If some problems don’t get solved, the next step is arbitration. A mediator who is also a qualified arbitrator can transition into an arbitration role. The med-arbitrator then can make binding decisions on issues that were not resolved during mediation.

Sometimes, a new arbitrator may consult with the mediator, and take on the case. Keep in mind that adding in the decision-making part (arbitration) can be tricky. Why? Because mediators and arbitrators may have different goals. The mediator encourages collaboration and the goal is reaching agreement. The arbitrator listens to each side and then decides whose argument is stronger.

Med-arb can make things more confusing and harder to solve. This is especially true with sensitive child custody matters. After trying mediation and moving on to arbitration, it can be difficult to maintain a calm discussion. So, when it comes to figuring out tough situations, it’s best to keep things simple.

What happens if you can’t agree on everything in mediation or arbitration?

It’s normal for spouses to have different perspectives. In any process there will be disagreements.

Dog lying in a field with front pawsThe good news is that mediation is very successful. The Aurit Center clients have a 95% success rate. Plus, they never have to see the inside of a courtroom.

Most issues can be resolved through mediation, though if you don’t agree on everything, you can move on to arbitration. A bit of conversation, led by a professional mediator, can overcome almost any disagreement.

Some final thoughts on divorce mediation vs. arbitration

Arbitration and mediation are both private and provide better results than litigation. However, there are key differences between them.

Arbitration involves two spouses presenting their individual cases. By comparison, mediation is collaborative. During mediation, both spouses share their concerns and are guided by a third-party mediator. Arbitration is more about creating arguments and not about being amicable.

Choosing mediation creates less animosity, and often leads to better long-term outcomes. This can be especially important when you need to work together long-term to co-parent a child.

Still have questions? Contact our divorce mediation team at The Aurit Center and schedule a free one-hour consultation. Find out how mediation can ease the difficulty of divorce for you and your family.

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