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Common Alternatives to Divorce—What's Right for You?

When most of us think of divorce, we imagine a hotly contested dispute in court—but that's not the only option. From mediation to collaborative divorce to litigation, various forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) can help you dissolve your marriage without battling it out in the courtroom.

Today, we're taking a look at some of the most popular ADR methods and discussing their positive and negative attributes so you can find the best path forward in your divorce case.


Mediation is perhaps the most common form of ADR. Many family law judges require couples to engage in mediation before continuing their divorce in court.

During mediation, a mediator works with both parties to try and develop mutually beneficial terms for the divorce.

Mediation works best when both parties are willing to engage in good-faith negotiation and work toward a compromise. Since mediation is a collaborative process, it's most successful when both spouses are willing to put their best foot forward.

The reality is, very few people get everything they want from a divorce. However, mediation allows you to optimize your chances of coming away from your divorce with a favorable arrangement.

Since mediation is less combative than other methods of ADR, both parties often come out of mediation with a good deal since neither spouse is trying to "get at" their soon-to-be-ex.

However, the collaborative nature of mediation can also be a double-edged sword. If one party refuses to engage in good-faith negotiation, it can quickly derail the mediation process and create an even more combative divorce.

You should know that mediators cannot give legal advice. If you want counsel during mediation, you'll need to hire a mediation attorney. Mediation also typically happens over a short timeframe, sometimes taking as little as one day to conclude.

Collaborative Divorce

If you want a more legally secure, thorough alternative to mediation, collaborative divorce may be the best option for you.

In a collaborative divorce, both parties hire an attorney. The attorneys then work with each other and their clients over several sessions to negotiate mutually beneficial terms for the divorce.

Because each party has dedicated legal representation, collaborative divorce is more legally protected than mediation—which can be useful if one party is manipulative or might try to strong-arm a more favorable divorce arrangement than they deserve. Additionally, collaborative divorce has a longer timeframe than mediation, making it more comfortable for individuals who aren't sure how they want to handle divorce-related processes like property division (which can be quite complex).

However, collaborative divorce also has drawbacks. It's more combative than mediation. Additionally, it's typically more expensive—mediation is usually the cheapest way to resolve a divorce.

Collaborative divorce is one of the most flexible forms of ADR, making it incredibly popular.


In litigation, both parties settle the divorce out of court.

Litigation is perhaps the most combative form of ADR. In litigation, both parties have an attorney that actively pursues the best possible outcome for their client—even if it doesn't satisfy the other party. As a result, litigation tends to be much more contentious than negotiation-focused ADR methods like mediation and collaborative divorce.

However, litigation can still be incredibly useful, because it allows parties to avoid a court-ordered divorce decree.

In contested divorces where neither party can agree on how to resolve the divorce, even after attempts to compromise, the court will draft a divorce decree on behalf of both parties that lays forth terms for the divorce that the court considers equitable.

Court-ordered divorce decrees are typically seen as a worst-case scenario by attorneys and courts alike, since they completely remove agency from the divorcees. No court wants to make decisions on behalf of two parties, which is why a court-ordered decree is usually a last resort.

While litigation may be more combative than other forms of ADR, it does enable parties to at least have a say in the outcome of their divorce. As a result, it's often considered preferable to a court-ordered decree.

At the law office of William Kirby, Family Law Attorney, our lawyer has a wealth of experience helping clients navigate complex divorce cases.

To schedule a consultation with our team and learn more about how we can help you find success in your divorce, contact us online or via phone at (215) 515-9901.