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Mediation vs. litigation: Finding the best path through divorce

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Divorce

Divorce doesn’t just signify the end of a marriage; it marks the start of a series of critical decisions that will impact your future. One of the first decisions people want to answer is how they will divorce – will it be through mediation or litigation? 

Understanding whether mediation or litigation aligns with your journey is key, as these and other choices you make early on can set the tone for the entire process. Before you make any decisions, it can be wise to learn more about the nuances of mediation and litigation in Minnesota.

Choosing the right path for your divorce

As you start to think about the route that might work best for you, there are some questions you can ask yourself to assess your situation: 

  • How complex are your financial and parenting issues?
  • Can you and your spouse communicate effectively?
  • Do you have kids?
  • Are there concerns about power imbalances or domestic abuse?
  • What are your priorities for the outcome of the divorce?

Your answers to these questions can help you identify your priorities and goals, pointing you in the direction of the approach that can be the best path forward.

What to expect if you mediate your divorce

Choosing mediation means you and your spouse are willing to work together, typically with a neutral mediator, to reach agreements on critical issues like asset division, spousal support and child custody. This route is less adversarial than litigation and can have the following impacts:

  • Reduced stress: Mediation is typically a more relaxed setting than a courtroom, which can reduce the emotional strain on both parties.
  • Faster resolution: Without the need for court dates and litigation procedures, mediation can lead to a quicker divorce, letting you move forward with your life sooner.
  • Cost savings: With fewer legal fees and court costs, mediation can be more economical than litigation.
  • Control over outcomes: Mediation allows you and your spouse to retain more control over the decisions that will affect your lives rather than leaving them in the hands of a judge.

During mediation sessions, parties will discuss and negotiate divorce-related matters in a neutral setting. The mediator will serve as a facilitator, helping to balance communication and foster an environment of cooperation and mutual contributions.

There are two primary approaches to mediation:

  • Pro se divorce mediation: This cost-effective option allows couples to negotiate divorce terms directly, without attorneys, but requires them to manage legal paperwork and understand Minnesota divorce laws.
  • Traditional divorce mediation: With the guidance of a neutral mediator, often with legal expertise, couples receive structured support and advice throughout negotiations, potentially with their own attorneys present, making this a good choice for those with more complex situations.

Many parties will mediate at least some aspects of their divorce, so understanding these aspects of the process gets you on the right track.

It is also important to note that mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution. If there are aspects you like about mediation but you have unique needs or circumstances, you can talk to your attorney about options, including collaborative divorce, Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) and a Moderated Settlement Conference (MSC), all of which allow you to avoid litigation. 

What to expect if you litigate your divorce

Litigation is often what people imagine when they think about divorce. In this process, each spouse hires an attorney to represent their interests, and decisions are made by a judge. This route is often more contentious and can lead to:

  • Increased conflict: Litigation can escalate disputes as each party fights to “win” in court, potentially leading to a more acrimonious split.
  • Longer timeframe: The court system must adhere to formal procedures and scheduling, which can extend the time it takes to finalize the divorce.
  • Higher costs: Litigation involves attorney fees, court fees and other expenses that can accumulate quickly, typically making it the more expensive option.
  • Less privacy: Court proceedings are public, meaning the details of your divorce could become a matter of public record.

Parties can often avoid litigation if they agree to work together and commit to staying out of court. However, there are scenarios in which litigation is the best, and perhaps only, option. 

For instance, going to court can be necessary for: 

  • High-conflict divorces
  • Legally complex cases that call for a decision by the courts
  • Cases involving violence or abuse

Whether you wish to litigate aspects of your divorce or not, it can be unavoidable. You can improve your standing by preparing for it and understanding the tone and process of litigation.

You are not in this alone

Understanding your options regarding divorce can provide a sense of control and direction. However, you do not need to have all the answers and solutions. You can also rely on legal and financial professionals skilled in navigating these matters who can provide tailored advice. Consider reaching out to family law attorneys or certified mediators in your area to explore your options further.

Your decisions will have a lasting effect on your life and your family’s future, so taking the time to educate yourself, consult with professionals and reflect on your personal goals and needs is essential. With the right information and support, you can navigate through your divorce with confidence.