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Choosing between Mediation and Collaborative Law

When you go through the divorce process, you will need to address all of the same issues regardless of the process you choose.  When you are choosing between mediation and Collaborative Law, you are choosing how you want to discuss those issues.

There are many similarities between Mediation and Collaborative Law.  Both are premised on good faith, full disclosure, and creating mutually beneficial agreements.  There are several differences between the processes, but the main difference is which professional(s) you work with to resolve your case.  Both processes frequently use child specialists, financial specialists and/or divorce coaches.  This article focuses only on the role of the mediator and Collaborative attorneys.

Mediation

In mediation, clients work directly with a neutral third party – the mediator.  Mediation is usually a series of “three way” meetings involving both clients and the mediator.  The mediator does not represent either client and has an equal duty to both clients.  Mediators can provide legal information to clients, but they cannot provide legal advice.  Legal information includes what the rules are in Oregon, how they may apply to your situation, and (potentially) what a likely range of outcomes would be in your situation.  Legal advice is a recommendation about what you should do in your situation.  Mediators cannot provide you with legal advice (even if they are an attorney).

Attorneys are often involved in the mediation process, although they don’t have to be involved.  Clients often consult with attorneys prior to mediation or in between mediation sessions.  Attorneys will sometimes be present during mediation.  This happens more often when a case is litigated (i.e., going through a traditional contested divorce process), but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

You can learn more about the mediation process here.

Collaborative Law

 In Collaborative Law each client is represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney.  The collaborative team meets together in series of “four way” meetings, although these meetings may also include other professionals if you are working on a “full team” case.  Collaborative law usually does not involve a mediator, although sometimes it does.  The job of the Collaborative attorney is to educate and advise their client while also providing negotiation assistance.  You can learn more about the role of the Collaborative Law attorney here.

You can learn more about the Collaborative Law process here.

Which Process to Choose?  The main difference between the two processes is working with one neutral third party vs. each person working with their own collaboratively trained attorney.  There is not necessarily a ‘right’ process, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Legal Advice. Do you feel like you need legal advice as part of the process?  Mediators are prohibited from providing legal advice, although they can provide legal information.  You can still obtain legal advice as part of mediation; it’s just usually done in between meetings.  Your Collaborative attorney, on the other hand, is with you every step of the way and is there to provide advice if you need it.  There are differences of opinion amongst professionals about the role of the law in the Collaborative law process, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Negotiation Assistance. When you think of negotiating on your own behalf, what comes up for you?  Is that a comfortable idea?  Is it stress-inducing?  Anxiety provoking?  The job of the mediator is to facilitate the negotiation and to empower both people to effectively advocate on their own behalf.  A Collaborative Law attorney, by comparison, would be actively negotiating with you and for you as part of the Collaborative process.
  • Increased Support. Sometimes one person prefers mediation and one person prefers Collaborative Law.  In that case we usually recommend choosing the Collaborative process rather than mediation.  If one person prefers Collaborative, it is usually because they feel like they need a heightened degree of support or assistance that their own attorney can provide.  Generally speaking, we’d rather have both people get added support if there is a need for it by one client rather than have someone need an increased level of support and not get it (i.e., by selecting the mediation process).  You can still have the support of an attorney in mediation, it’s just that your attorney tends to be more involved in your Collaborative Law case than if they are just consulting in between mediation sessions.

One useful way of deciding between mediation and Collaborative Law is to schedule a joint process consultation with a member of Bridges.  A joint process consultation is an opportunity for both of you to sit down with one person to discuss which process will work best for your family.  These meetings are limited just to discussing these process options – you will not be negotiating at a process consultation.

The members of Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions offer both mediation and Collaborative Law services.  Many of us offer joint process consultations if you need help deciding which process makes the most sense for you and your family.

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Forrest Collins
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Forrest Collins, PC
Ste. 150
5200 Meadows Rd
Lake Oswego, OR 97035