Collaborative Practice and Mediation: Understanding the Process

collaborative practice

Ending a marriage is complex, and we aren’t going to say otherwise. Most people assume they’re going right to court; however, choosing collaborative practice or mediation can prove less antagonistic and less expensive than fighting it out before a judge.

Let’s learn more about collaborative practice —how does it work to assist you in reaching a peaceful resolution in your divorce?

What is Collaborative Practice?

Collaborative practice is a type of non-adversarial approach to divorce. The process is founded around the agreement that each spouse (and their respective lawyers) pledge not to go to court.

Divorce is always a big life change, no matter how mutual the decision is. A collaborative practice approach smooths the transition, giving the couple a more cooperative way to find peaceful closure and an optimistic look toward the future.

collaborative practice
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Who’s Involved?

Like any other divorce proceedings, the collaborative practice covers all aspects of ending a marriage and partnership. The process covers everything from custody to alimony to asset division. The couple will assemble a team of professionals to work out the specifics.

Along with individual attorneys, the “collaborative team” includes financial advisors, divorce coaches, and child specialists. All collaborative practice professionals are trained in non-confrontational negotiation to keep discussions grounded in mutual compassion, understanding, and cooperation.

An added note about the attorneys you involve: a collaborative practice agreement is predicated on an entirely out-of-court settlement. At the start, the parties make an agreement that all lawyers and experts they hire deal with settlement only. If the parties do not settle their case in the end, they cannot hire those attorneys or use those experts again (unless it’s for another attempt at collaborative practice).

Stearns law collaborative practice attorney
Source: Stearns-Montogomery & Proctor

They have to start completely fresh, which is meant to encourage them to be very committed to settling—it’s a lot of money you’re investing in these attorneys and these experts, so you [need to be] serious about it.
— Melanie Prehodka, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

The Process

At the start of the process, the parties sign a collaborative practice agreement and statement of understanding, which reflects their mutual commitment to the process. After agreeing on the issues to cover and setting a timeline for meetings, the process will play out over a period of months or up to a year or longer, depending on the parties' timeline. Unlike divorce litigation in court, the parties control the timeline and when meetings are scheduled. In divorce litigation in court, the parties are subject to mandated deadlines. They are forced to appear in court when a proceeding is scheduled, regardless of the inconvenience to the parties.

At the end of the process, the attorneys prepare a series of documents, including:

  • Settlement Agreement
  • Parenting Plan
  • Child Support Worksheets
  • Child Support Addendum

In collaborative practice, parties can discuss whatever they like and whatever they need to help them be in the right frame of mind to settle, which includes the airing of grievances if necessary. Unlike divorce litigation in court, where all pleadings are available to the public, the documents exchanged during a collaborative practice negotiation are confidential.

Overall, the collaborative practice offers a respectful and non-confrontational way to resolve disputes during a divorce. It provides a space for open communication and cooperation, resulting in a more efficient and affordable process.

The attorneys and all the experts involved are very supportive; they're not there to be butting heads and being difficult with each other.
— Melanie Prehodka, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a process where a neutral third party—the mediator—guides parties through their divorce. Unlike collaborative law, mediation is more time-compressed: the whole process generally wraps up in just one or two intense sessions.

In Georgia, most counties require couples to attend divorce mediation before going to court. Compared to a litigated divorce, mediation is less expensive and less time-consuming.

Who’s Involved?

During mediation, the couple works with an impartial third-party mediator who facilitates communication and helps them reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Unlike a judge, the mediator doesn't make decisions for the couple. Instead, they act as a neutral party to guide the discussion and help the couple find a resolution.

When choosing a mediator, the couple should aim to find someone who is unbiased, compassionate, and a critical thinker.

The mediator meets with the couple together and separately to ensure that each party's concerns are addressed. Additionally, each party may consult with their independent attorneys, who may or may not be present during sessions.

couple discussing collaborative practice and mediation
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The Process

Before the session, the mediator will acquaint themselves with all the gathered information. Each party identifies their needs and wants to help frame their settlement negotiations.

If the couple can’t come to a resolution with the mediator, then the case goes to court. Ultimately, this can be quite costly and drag on for months.

Determining Factors Between Collaborative Practice and Mediation

Choosing the mediation or collaborative practice remains at the parties' discretion. Each process has its benefits.

mature couple looking at terms of mediation
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The parties don’t necessarily have to get along in collaborative practice—but the end goal for both sides must be finding the fairest balance. Collaborative practice also presents a good option for couples who want to take the time to conclude a series of sessions and who are not necessarily seeking a speedy conclusion.

The range of experts involved in collaborative practice offers a holistic answer for more complicated facets, like your co-parenting strategy.

[In collaborative law] it’s not a matter of who's right, who's wrong, who takes the blame. Collaborative law is: ‘this marriage is over, we just need figure out how to to end it, what's the best way to end it.’ So the [parties] have to be psychologically prepared for that—and committed to that—in order for it to work.
— Melanie Prehodka, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

Collaborative Practice Helps You Split On Your Terms

Collaborative practice and mediation present a way for you and your ex-partner to split amicably outside of court. But even though you remove the drama of a courtroom scene, it doesn’t mean the emotional stress of restructuring your family disappears.

Collaborative practice is about control—if the relationship ends, at least it’s ending on your terms. While each party has the agency to advocate for their needs, they also have a committed team of professionals to support them in settling.

The team at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor is here to help you through this critical juncture in your life, whichever avenue you choose. If you’re seeking legal guidance for ending your marriage in the state of Georgia, reach out to our experienced attorneys today.