Choosing Your Divorce Path: Mediation vs Divorce Attorney
Understanding the differences between divorce mediators and divorce attorneys is vital to making an informed decision about which path forward will work best for you.
In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of and differences between going through the divorce process with a mediator vs a divorce lawyer. By the end, you’ll better understand each approach and be more confident in choosing the best path forward.
Working with a divorce attorney
Often by default, spouses hire a divorce attorney (or family law attorney) when they decide to divorce or legally separate. These legal professionals are sought out to offer legal advice, handle paperwork and procedures, advocate in court, and share their knowledge of local divorce law. Attorney communication and tactics can be aggressive and result in more conflict and legal fees than necessary.
How working with a divorce attorney works:
Meet Sandra, who decided to hire an attorney for her divorce. Both Sandra and her spouse, John, believed hiring an attorney was the best move for their situation. Mr. Harris, Sandra’s attorney, assured her he’d fiercely champion her interests in court.
Although she initially felt relief, as the process went on, Sandra realized that Mr. Harris’ aggressive advocacy came at a price. To build her case against her spouse, he needed every detail about her personal life — emails, text messages, finances, and intimate details about the marriage — as everything became part of the legal material. While Mr. Harris ensured Sandra all of this information was essential, Sandra could feel her privacy slipping away.
The attorney fees started piling up, and the court appearances were overwhelming. The process was taking much longer than Sandra and John had expected. Mr. Harris used a startling, confrontational style to advocate for Sandra in court, and an all-out court battle erupted. After a year of litigation that consumed Sandra and John’s lives and continued to take a negative toll on their children, Sandra felt like a bystander in the process and worried that the conflict and heartache would be never-ending.
Unfortunately, Sandra’s story is all too common. Too many people assume working with a divorce attorney is their only option, and they don’t fully understand the consequences. The truth is that most divorces do not require litigation in court with attorneys. While attorneys are essential in a few specific circumstances, it’s wise to weigh the costs and benefits — both financial and emotional — of litigation vs. mediation.
Pro tip: Attorneys are welcome to join their clients in mediation. In this situation, the spouses will pay a small amount for the attorney’s support and get the advice they need without paying them exorbitant amounts of money to handle the entire case in court.
What are the disadvantages of using a divorce attorney?
A lawyer-driven divorce has a number of drawbacks. Here are just a few:
Financial burden: With retainers, unpredictable fees, and hourly billing rates ranging from $300 to $500, attorneys can be costly. And since attorneys are compensated for every minute they work, the more conflict that occurs, the more they charge.The average cost of a divorce attorney varies by state, but it’s common for spouses to pay $15,000 to $20,000 each. With complex or drawn-out cases, it can easily exceed $100,000. These financial pressures can add an extra layer of stress during an already difficult time. Many people report being forced to drain the assets they fought over during litigation to pay their final attorney fee bill.
Adversarial process: Divorce lawyers may take extreme positions and communicate combatively with their eye on “winning” in court. This can lead to extra tension between the spouses and, most importantly, affect how their children process the divorce — often damaging relationships between the parents and their children.
Lengthy legal proceedings: Attorney representation can lead to prolonged legal proceedings, mandatory court hearings, and endless paperwork, draining your resources and keeping you stuck in a state of uncertainty.
Limited decision-making and control over divorce matters: In a courtroom, the ultimate decision rests with the family court judge, leaving you with no say in the outcome. Hiring an attorney may mean surrendering control over important decisions.
Potential impact on children: Fifty years of research confirms that the adversarial nature of attorney-led divorces can be especially hard on minor children. Specifically, continued conflict during and after the divorce can cause long-term psychological problems in these individuals. Divorce attorneys are primarily concerned with their client’s best interests, not the entire family’s. This may negatively affect the spouses’ ability to co-parent during and after their divorce.
Stress and negative emotional toll: A lengthy legal procedure and contentious divorce process can be a significant source of stress and anxiety.
Communication between spouses is discouraged: Attorneys often insist that all communication goes through them. This increases tension and removes the opportunity for a quick and easy resolution.
When looking into how best to proceed with your divorce, it’s essential to consider these disadvantages and understand your options. Divorce doesn’t have to be filled with conflict. There is a simpler, more amicable path. Let’s take a look at that path now.
Working with a divorce mediator
Divorce mediation is a healthier approach to divorce, in contrast to divorce attorneys. The mediation process is rooted in collaboration and the outcomes aim to meet everyone’s wants and needs — the opposite of litigation, where one party “wins” and the other “loses.”
How mediation works:
Let’s bring in Patrick, who was looking for an amicable way to divorce. He approached his spouse, Hailey, about attending a free mediation consultation with an experienced professional mediator who could guide them through the entire process.
At their initial consultation, they were reassured by their mediator that if they preferred, they could each consult with an attorney at any time during their mediation process. They felt relieved knowing that mediation would allow them to keep conflict to a minimum and that they could still get legal advice if they wanted it.
During each mediation meeting, the mediator guided Patrick and Hailey in creating agreements that accounted for both of their priorities, including child custody arrangements, parenting time personalized to both of their schedules, financial matters, and property division. The mediator informed them about the laws in their state and expertly guided them through the process, facilitating a positive and balanced conversation.
Patrick was encouraged by the cost-effectiveness of mediation and appreciated that the mediator focused on helping them find common ground. The “win-win” approach allowed him and his spouse to amicably co-parent and protect their children from undue stress.
The family mediator’s expertise in conflict resolution and deep knowledge of family law helped Patrick and Hailey settle their divorce in the healthiest way possible.
What are the advantages of using a divorce mediator?
Opting to work with a mediator comes with a range of benefits, including:
Cost-effectiveness: Divorce mediation is a more budget-friendly option than traditional divorce litigation. Spouses can save on attorney fees, court expenses, and other costs. Mediators who offer flat fees provide the additional advantage of predictability and financial stability.
Cooperative problem-solving: Mediation promotes open communication, creative problem-solving, and a collaborative divorce process. Mediators balance power dynamics and create a level playing field so both spouses’ voices are heard, which results in their best agreements.
Greater control and flexibility: The divorce mediation process allows spouses to tailor their divorce agreement to fit their unique needs and those of their children. Generally, spouses have complete control over the decision-making process in mediation meetings, unlike a lawyer-driven litigated divorce, where a judge decides everything.
Quicker resolution: A mediated divorce typically leads to swifter resolutions than court proceedings. This reduces the emotional toll on everyone involved. The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation has over a 95% settlement rate. Even when conflict is high, mediation can be successful.
Better for children: Research shows that parents who use mediation typically have better relationships with their children than parents who litigate. Children whose parents used divorce mediation had substantially more contact with their parents when they reached adulthood.
Mediator vs attorney: How to choose the best option for you
Choosing the right path forward can make the divorce journey much smoother. Here are some key factors to consider as you weigh your divorce options and decide on the best approach for your situation:
1. Your values
Take a moment for self-reflection. What are your core values? You can stay true to yourself throughout your divorce. People who value integrity, health, and putting kids first are aligned with the mediation process. While divorce can be challenging, you can still choose a process that aligns best with your values.
The litigation process will not feel good for you if using aggressive tactics, proving the other person wrong, and attacking the other’s character is not aligned with your values. People often report feeling trapped in litigation: since they are already so deep “in it,” it’s too late to make a different choice.
The truth is that people can choose to begin mediation anytime. The best choice is from the very beginning. With the guidance of a mediator, you and your spouse can respectfully reach agreements in mediation without the stressful battle mindset of litigation.
2. Your confidentiality
Ultimately, opting for mediation offers a more private and confidential setting, allowing spouses to maintain discretion while resolving disputes. Consider your preparedness to share intimate details of your life throughout the entire process, as working with attorneys in a divorce trial often leads to a more public display of personal matters, potentially impacting privacy and confidentiality.
Remember, no two divorces are the same. Your choice of process should align with your values, priorities, and specific circumstances. Ultimately, your decision should empower you to confidently move forward knowing you’ve chosen the best possible path for yourself and your family.
A divorce mediator can help you positively shape your future
You have the power to shape your divorce experience, and your Aurit Center Certified Mediator is here to help you have a healthy divorce, keeping you in control of your own terms, saving you time and money, minimizing stress, and helping to safeguard your children’s well-being.