Ending a marriage is never a pleasant process, but the California legal system has two alternative dispute resolution procedures that may significantly reduce the emotional stress of a divorce. The first is mediation, and the second is collaborative divorce. The two divorce alternative dispute resolution procedures are significantly different, but they have a similar goal: facilitating participation of the couple in making all necessary decisions with a minimum of anger and confrontation and without the expense of a court trial.
Mediation relies on the services of a neutral third party who meets with the couple and their attorneys and suggests various solutions to problems, like child support, custody, property division and alimony. The mediator makes no decisions, and no agreement is binding upon the parties unless each of them agrees to specific terms. A mediator may be able to help resolve two or three issues, leaving the remaining issues for the judge. Even a partial mediation agreement can help the couple resolve the remaining issues.
Collaborative divorce does not use a third party to reach an agreement. Instead, each party hires a specially trained collaborative divorce lawyer. The parties and the lawyers meet periodically to review and discuss the issues in the case. Prior to beginning the collaborative process, the parties and their attorneys sign an agreement in which each promises to refrain from going to court.
If the parties and their attorneys are unable to reach an agreement through the collaborative process, the lawyers withdraw and the parties must hire new attorneys. The threat of hiring a replacement attorney and incurring significant additional legal fees is enough of a disincentive to persuade both sides to work very hard to find a negotiated settlement on all issues.