9 Benefits of Divorce Mediation vs Litigation from a Co-parenting Counselor’s Perspective

I remember when I negotiated my first deal on the playground between two friends who were trading scratch 'n' sniff stickers.  They both wanted my bubblegum sticker, and I wanted their grapefruit one!  It was a tough negotiation, but in the end we decided being friends and trading was much more fun than having a fight and walking away from each other.  Divorce mediation can be much the same way.  Mediation occurs when a divorcing couple and usually their attorneys come to the table with a mediator to help resolve any disputes they have regarding their divorce. It is non-adversarial conversation.  The divorce mediator is usually an attorney or mental health professional.  The mediator's role is to facilitate a discussion.  A mediator is not a judge.  They do not make any decisions, instead they help the parties involved talk about the issues calmly and negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement.

9 Benefits to Divorce Mediation

1. We've got the power!

Parties retain the power over their own lives instead of taking their chances and rolling the dice with the judge regarding their future. There are no surprises in a mediated agreement. When you leave the divorce mediation you know exactly what you agreed to. When you leave a courtroom, you have no idea how a judge will rule, and then you have to wait for that ruling.  Putting your future as well as your child's future in the hands of one person, instead of your own can be incredibly risky and scary.  Keep the power in your family's hands.

2. Solutions that work for YOUR family

You and your coparent know how your family works the best. The lawyers don’t. The judge doesn’t. You and your coparent can make decisions based on what you think will be best for your family.  Divorce mediation allows families the time and space to deal with their specific issues and find the best solutions for their families.  For example, you as parents know the traditions and rituals you have created as a family around holidays.  Perhaps for the sake of your children you are OK with keeping a lot of those traditions in place, like always going to dad's parents house for Christmas Eve and mom's family for Christmas.  In a court-ordered agreement, dividing up time can become forced and rigid instead of voluntary and flexible. In litigation, emotions get stirred and what was not important suddenly becomes significant.  The biggest losers are the children.

3. Saves Money

Litigation can be expensive.  The average cost of a divorce can be anywhere from $15,000 - 20,000, and if  litigation is involved it can cost much more.   Maybe this should be the NUMBER ONE reason! There are many hidden costs in a divorce like:

  • attorneys fees

  • court costs

  • costs for parent education classes and counseling

  • financial advisor/ accountant costs

Divorce mediation can cost a fraction of what litigation can. Most importantly, it can also set up a pattern between you and your coparent that sitting down at a table and working out solutions for your family is a much better idea that fighting it out in court.

4. Saves Time

Divorce mediation often allows parties to settle quicker than litigation and move forward with their lives.  Some litigation can take years.  Nolo.com is a divorce website that answers people's questions about getting divorced.  They surveyed people coming to their website about how much their divorce cost and how long it took.  Click here to see the results.  They found that it took only about 9 months for divorcing couples who were able to settle their own disputes.  The couples that litigated took on average 17.6 months to finalize.  Interestingly, the longer the divorce took and more litigation involved, the less satisfaction couples felt with the final results.

5. Friendlier Process

Litigation is a very formal process. Divorce mediation is sitting down at a table discussing issues informally. If the discussion becomes too heated the parties separate and “caucus”, meaning they go into separate rooms.  The conversations continue with the mediator going back and forth between the two parties. Litigation is much more adversarial with cross-examinations often regarding the past.  Mediation is much more future-oreinted by helping families move forward.

6. Reduces the likelihood of emotional trauma

Lawyers often advise their clients not to speak to their former spouse, while involved in litigation.  Often this lack of communication can increase the turmoil between the couples without them even knowing it. Since they are NOT talking, they begin to make stories up in their heads about their former spouse.  These stories are often critical and negative and do not give the spouse the benefit of the doubt.  One of the biggest problems I believe for the couple involved in litigation is that they are no longer sharing good stories with each other about their children like "Johnny did the funniest thing today...".  This only increases the stress on the family and takes a HUGE emotional toll on everyone involved.  This stress and the bitterness it breeds may takes years to overcome, if ever.

7. Confidential and Private

Divorce mediation is a lot like Vegas -“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” In litigation that is not always the case.  Keeping your family issues private and confidential can help preserve the relationships as well as help your family move forward instead of being stuck in the past.

8. Settlement is voluntary

Because this is a voluntary process you are more likely to comply with the agreements you make at the table with each other than Orders or Settlements handed down by a judge.  I believe this is one of the most compelling reasons to try mediation.  If a Judge decides how to essentially run your family it is much harder to abide by something a stranger decided than something you mutually agreed on together.  This could help save time, money and emotional trauma if you feel compelled to go back and keep fighting things out in court.

9. Protects Coparenting Relationships

You have to co-parent forever. FORVER.  Research has shown that mediation does a far better job preserving your relationship with your former spouse, which is in the best interest of your children.   Dr. Emery, a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, did a 12 year study on the effects of mediation versus litigation on families.  His results were astounding!  (Click here to read more about the study.)  He found that non-residential parents (meaning the children who do not primarily live with this parent) actually end up spending more quality time with their children than those who pursued litigation!  Below is a chart from his findings.  You can see that these parents were engaged with everyday life with their kids like discussing problems and being involved in significant events.




The chart below shows how litigation and mediation can affect telephone calls with their children when all the proceedings are over.  Over 50% of the parents who litigated received a phone call 1 time/ year.   52% of the parents who mediated talked with their children weekly 12 YEARS LATER!




Divorce is an incredibly painful process for the whole family.  By choosing mediation over litigation you can preserve much of your family relationships well into the future.  All the compelling research regarding children of divorce says there is one thing that significantly harms these children: ongoing parental conflict.  Mediation is a way to set a pattern of how you as a family will deal with difficult things.  It says to your kids that you will come to a table discuss, negotiate, compromise and move forward.  Isn't that what we are all trying to teach our kids when they disagree on the playground?

If you are stuck in your co-parenting relationship and not sure how to move forward, co-parenting counseling with me can help!   Please email at sara@sparrowcounsel.com or call me at 205-538-3978 or go online to schedule an appointment.

For more co-parenting tips please read my other blogs-

Communicating with your coparent

Talking to your children about divorce

What is Co-Parenting and what isn't it?

Sara Dungan, M.Ed, LMFT, ALC, NCC, Certified Parenting Coordinator, Divorce and Family Mediator (Domestic Violence Trained) has her private practice called Sparrow Counseling in Birmingham, AL.  She specializes in Parenting Coordination, Co-Parenting Counseling and Divorce and Family Mediation.  Her passion is helping parents learn how to become successful coparents, so their children can thrive after their divorce.  Contact Sara at sara@sparrowcounsel.com.

Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, MEd, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.