The Difference Between Collaborative Law and Mediation

Often, when I introduce Collaborative Law to people, the response is, “Oh, that sounds like mediation.” 

And, that’s a good place to start because the two methods for approaching conflict—specifically in the context of divorce—have similarities. They both:

  • Employ confidentiality.
  • Are designed to maintain a productive relationship between the parties and benefit the children.
  • Give responsibility for the outcome to the family (as opposed to the court).
  • Can cost less than litigation.
  • Allow “interest-based” solutions to matters in dispute
  • Are voluntary.

But, I think of Collaborative Law as mediation on steroids and it differs from mediation is several ways.

Team Approach

In mediation, a single, third party facilitator helps both parties involved reach an agreement.  In Collaborative Law, a lot more expertise is leveraged because a professional team is working with the couple to identify the needs and priorities of all family members as well as where there is disagreement. The team is comprised of:

  • An attorney for each party
  • A financial advisor
  • A mental health professional
  • Other allied, relevant professionals (like a child specialist)

Each team member is certified in Collaborative Law and practiced in the process, so that they can work efficiently together to achieve resolution that results in a carefully thought-out settlement.

This also enables the couples to have informed guidance from the beginning. Meaning, the overwhelming legal issues, finances and emotional stress can be addressed with the help of the team, from the start.


Collaborative Law has an extra safeguard against litigation in that the attorneys, the parties and other participating professionals enter into an agreement that sets specific guidelines for the process and disqualifies all the professionals involved from participating in divorce litigation between the parties, in the event that a settlement cannot be reached or the process is otherwise unsuccessful.  This ensures that the professionals are focused on the process, while the parties can focus on their goals and interests without the distraction or threat of possible litigation.  Whereas, with mediation, there is a greater risk that one or both parties will pull in an attorney at any point who will be focused on litigation or increase the likelihood of it.


Mediation has great potential to be goal-oriented, but it is also more likely to devolve into issues of emotional baggage. With a team focused on specific goals, there is more momentum towards the accomplishment of those goals. Emotional challenges are still addressed, but head-on in the context of larger goals.  Issue resolution and family growth are fostered, while harmful effects of litigation are more easily avoided.

Unhindered Communication

While the mediation model is far better than the traditional model of litigation, there is still opportunity for dialogue to be restricted between parties. With a single mediator involved, one or both parties may choose to step outside of the dialogue and involve other experts in separate conversations. With the collaborative model, the dialogue occurs among the entire team, together, and an exchange of ideas occurs in an open forum, which helps to minimize the possibility of one party or the other pursuing a hidden agenda.

Mediation can be a great option for certain parties, but these are some of the key benefits of Collaborative Law that set it apart and can produce positive results in a tough situation.