Divorce vs. Mediation: Know which approach is best for your family

Every couple has different reasons for going their separate ways. Similarly, how they handle that split varies from one set of spouses to the next.

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We asked the 2017 Top Lawyers in Northern Virginia to explain the difference between divorce and mediation. Here’s what they had to say:

Divorce mediation is a process in which the divorcing couple works with a neutral facilitator to develop a divorce settlement agreement that will address the needs of both spouses and allow the couple to avoid contested court proceedings. In mediation, the focus is on settlement and not court.

In divorce litigation, the spouses’ attorneys also eventually work on settlement, but this is done in the midst of contested court proceedings. If a settlement is not reached by the court’s assigned trial date, a judge makes the legal decisions relevant to a couple’s divorce for them.” –Jonathan L. Kales, Partner, Kales & Kales PLC

“Mediation is a private process, and the settlement discussions remain private and confidential. With litigation, most of the time the court is open to the public. One of the biggest benefits of mediation is that the parties have control over the outcome and can be more creative with solutions that work for their family. In litigation, the judge is bound by the law and does not have the same options. A judge will have a small window of time to hear from you and your spouse; he or she will then make a decision that might make both parties unhappy. Mediation may allow the parties to minimize future conflict.

It takes two people to work together and reach an agreement; if one will not participate in good faith, your choice is made for you. People have different motivations—some want a more amicable relationship going forward so that they can be at children’s graduations and weddings together. Some are motivated by saving money—litigation is very expensive. Some want a private process; some want a quicker resolution. None of these are bad reasons if that is what works for both parties.” –Susan Butler, Partner, ShounBach

(2017 Top Lawyers, Advice from the 2017 Top Lawyers, December 2017)