It used to be that when a couple decided to divorce in Wisconsin, they had the choice of either going through the stress of a contested hearing or being subjected to high-pressure settlement negotiations until finally agreeing to terms that may or may not be in each person’s best interest. Fortunately, today there are lower-conflict-oriented alternatives such as Collaborative Divorce and Divorce Mediation that allow the parties to work cooperatively to find reasonable and creative solutions to fit their circumstances. Both of these processes can be highly beneficial during certain divorces, but they are different from one another. How can I tell if Collaborative Divorce or Divorce Mediation is better for me?
The Collaborative Divorce Model
A Collaborative Divorce involves both parties agreeing to work with specially-trained attorneys and neutral professionals to identify and resolve their divorce issues without any adversarial court proceedings. This process consists of each side agreeing to be completely open with information and to work together in joint meetings to resolve disputes. By using various professionals’ expertise, the couple can get detailed information on matters such as property valuation issues, real estate, and financial accounts. Additionally, therapeutic professionals can provide feedback on the best arrangement for child placement and scheduling. By working cooperatively through their collaborative attorneys, the couple can develop an equitable agreement based on mutual respect and understanding. The process is entirely voluntary, and there is never pressure to enter into a settlement. It doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict, it just means the parties have agreed to work out their differences in a respectful process, using professionals best suited to resolve those differences. If the Collaborative process is unsuccessful, the attorneys will withdraw from the case, and each side will hire new counsel and proceed to litigation.
Divorce Mediation is a process that involves the parties using a neutral mediator who will attempt to help them reach an agreement as to all or some of the issues in their divorce. This process may be mandatory in your Wisconsin divorce case (if you and your ex disagree on custody and placement during divorce, the law requires that you attend mediation before proceeding to a contested hearing.) For voluntary mediation, parties may be represented by counsel or they may choose to be unrepresented and hire a mediator on their own. Each party can meet with the mediator separately if desired, or together if the level of cooperation is high. If the parties work better when separated, the mediation will go back and forth between rooms in an attempt to help the parties reach an agreement. This is a non-binding process, and therefore no one can be compelled to agree. Early mediation is often a cost-effective approach to resolve disputes quickly and efficiently, especially if conflicts are minimal and advocate attorneys are not involved. In cases when advocate counsel is involved, a mediator is generally brought in later when there is an impasse and the parties and their attorney are having trouble resolving disputes. Either way, having a neutral in the room can make a big difference in getting the parties past their positions and into compromise territory.
Collaborative Divorce or Divorce Mediation?
Collaborative Divorce tends to work best for couples who want to end their relationships amicably and are committed to putting the whole family’s needs first. If a couple is at serious odds about several issues in their case, this model may not be realistic for them. Collaborative Divorce can be an effective means of dividing assets and deciding other critical issues in a divorce case using the right professional for each dispute. However, if the parties are not willing to release their hostilities toward one another for the sake of reaching an agreement, this type of divorce is not likely to work. Likewise, a cooperative divorce model will not be appropriate when there is an unhealthy dynamic giving one partner more power in the relationship. When one partner has been abusive or has an untreated mental health or substance abuse issue, this process will be harder to manage.
Divorce Mediation may be a better option when the parties have more conflict in their divorce case but do want to settle the issues. The mediation process tends to start with the two sides being in disparate positions and finding a middle ground. Divorce mediators are usually (but not always) family law attorneys who know the issues and the likely outcomes in court. They have the experience to parse through the issues with both sides and help them distinguish between sensical and non-sensical demands. As with Collaborative Divorce, Divorce Mediation is not going to be useful or appropriate if one person is abusive towards the other, if there is an untreated mental health issue, or if someone needs substance abuse treatment.