Divorce Approaches for Making the Necessary Decisions

There are five main ways or approaches to go about making the financial and parenting plan decisions for your divorce:

  • decide everything on your own;
  • mediation;
  • collaborative divorce;
  • negotiation through lawyers;
  • litigation.

No matter which you choose, if you reach a settlement it will be honored with the same legal force by the court.

divorce approaches waysDeciding everything on your own is of course the cheapest approach. It can also be the most harmonious. Unfortunately, many couples are unable to do this for all issues and so turn to one of the other approaches.


Mediation involves both of you working with a trained mediator who will guide you through the decisions that need to be made and help you find a way through the sticking points. Representing neither party, the mediator remains impartial and works actively to address imbalances that may exist between you and your spouse, so that each party feels empowered to make informed decisions that are fair and appropriate. Mediation has many benefits. To learn about my approach to divorce mediation, click here.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is a relatively new team approach. At a minimum, each of you will have a lawyer who is fully committed to working for a negotiated settlement. In addition to the lawyers, the team often includes other specialists such as a financial expert or a familytherapist. This approach gives you the benefit of maximum professional input. It is more expensive than mediation but less than litigating through to a trial. If a settlement cannot be achieved, the lawyers withdraw and each of you will need to hire a new lawyer if you want to proceed with litigation.

Negotiation Through Lawyers

divorce approaches alternativesIf each of you hires a lawyer for representation through the litigation process, the lawyers will at some point attempt to negotiate a settlement to avoid the need for trial. The negotiation will tend to be adversarial (since each lawyer is hired to advocate for their client) and you may not meet face to face with your spouse. As a result any settlement reached is likely to be less satisfying than one achieved through mediation or collaborative divorce.


If you proceed all the way to trial with a lawyer, the process is very expensive. You can litigate your own divorce without hiring a lawyer. However, you would be wading into a complicated legal process in which you probably would not know the procedural rules or the laws the judge will rely upon in decision-making. In either case, the trial will be a public airing of your private life. Given the jammed court calendars, it may take years to complete your divorce. If none of the other approaches above are agreeable to both of you or successful, you may have no other choice.  But you will have given decision-making power to the judge and the result is often far from predictable.

Other Approaches

Two other rarely-used approaches are arbitration and private judging, which both involve paying a private person to make those decisions you are not able to make using one of the approaches above.