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Divorce Mediation vs. Divorce Court: When to Choose What

4 min read

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By Larissa Holt

Divorce doesn’t always have to be a fight. Find out the benefits of divorce mediation versus divorce court and learn which one may be best for your situation.

Divorce is difficult, no matter how much you know it’s the right decision. There are assets to split up, financial accounts to deal with and sometimes even child support, spousal support, and child custody and visitation to deal with. While it may seem like fighting out your divorce at a trial is the only way, this isn’t true.

Divorce mediation is another option that can make the divorce process much smoother, quicker and less costly. However, it isn’t appropriate for every situation. Learn more about the difference between divorce mediation and divorce court, and how to know which one is right for you below.

Divorce Mediation vs. Divorce Court

While all divorces have to go through the family court system, there is a difference between a divorce mediation agreement that just gets signed off on by a judge and the process of a divorce trial. Understanding those differences and the pros and cons of each is important to be able to make a decision on the best path forward for your circumstances.

Divorce Mediation

With divorce mediation, most of the process happens outside the courts. The two parties work with their own legal counsel and a mediator to work out a divorce agreement that works for both sides. Once an agreement has been reached, the papers are drawn up, and the parties just have to appear in front of the judge for it to be officially signed and then to be pronounced divorced.

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  • Less contentious process – helpful for those trying to stay civil and maintain a positive co-parenting relationship
  • Less fighting and time spent in front of a judge usually means less money spent on legal fees and court costs
  • An agreed-upon settlement often gets both parties closer to what they want than a judge having to make a decision
  • If the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement
  • the case may still need to go to trial
  • Not usually productive in high-conflict cases

Divorce Court

Divorce court is another name for the family court system, and while every couple who gets divorced must go to court for at least a dissolution hearing, when you hear the term divorce court, it usually means a divorce that has to go through the trial process.

This means that the parties aren’t able to agree on what should be done with child custody, financial support and/or division of assets and are bringing that decision before the judge. The parties will have the opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence to argue their cases, and then the judge makes the final decision on who gets what.

Divorce trials are more common in high-conflict cases, situations where there are very high-value assets with no prenuptial agreement in place and in divorces that involve children.

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  • The judge may award you more assets or better terms than your ex was willing to agree to
  • Forces a spouse who doesn’t want a divorce to cooperate with the process
  • Can better hold high-conflict individuals accountable through subpoenas and threats of contempt
  • Can be dragged on for months and sometimes even years
  • A long and contentious trial is expensive
  • Outcomes can vary greatly depending on legal representation and the judge that is assigned to the case

Which One Is Best for You?

So, how do you decide whether you should take your case to trial or give divorce mediation a shot? Here are three main questions to ask yourself as you consider.

1. How Contentious Is the Split?

Divorce mediation works best when both parties want the divorce, are splitting amicably and are willing to compromise. Situations that involve domestic violence, cheating or other major issues can be difficult to settle in mediation because emotions run high and neither party wants to compromise.

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2. Do You Agree on Most Issues?

One of the best ways to see if divorce mediation may be an option for you is to have a test conversation with your ex. Talk about the major issues like property division, financial support and child custody and visitation, and see how far apart you are.

If you agree on most issues or aren’t too far apart on issues — for example, maybe you both want shared parenting but you don’t agree on a visitation schedule yet — mediation can be very helpful in finalizing those details.

3. Are the Children or Excessive Assets Involved?

Children and large value assets, such as retirement accounts, stocks and real estate investments, are two common points of contention in a divorce. If both parties aren’t willing to compromise on these issues, a divorce trial may be the only way to get decisions made.

Whether you’re still considering your divorce options or are already in process, divorce mediation can be a viable alternative to divorce court if both you and your ex are willing to compromise and work toward an agreement that is fair and suitable to both of you.

However, even if you believe that your divorce will be amicable or have already agreed on everything, it’s still important to talk to a family law attorney to ensure everything is handled in accordance with the laws and guidelines in your county and state.

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