What is the difference between mediation and collaborative law? The best place to start would be to simply define both terms generically. Mediation is commonly defined as “an intervention in a dispute in order to resolve it.” Collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” The resolution to a conflict can be one of the things created through collaboration.

In family law, mediation involves having a neutral third party (the mediator) help the parties with the negotiation process. Mediation focuses on both individuals’ interests, needs and concerns. Unlike court hearings, mediation sessions take place in an informal conference room setting. 

Although attorneys often do not attend mediation sessions, the parties can be represented by their own attorneys. There can be a financial advantage to mediation as the parties are paying one mediator to help reach a resolution and are consciously limiting the use of the attorneys’ time. They can also consult with their attorney outside of the mediation session for legal advice. Attorneys then prepare the formal contract that will legally finalize the agreement reached in the mediation sessions.

The basis of collaborative family law is the shared belief of the participants that it is in the best interests of the parties and their families to commit themselves to avoiding litigation and resolving their differences with minimal conflict. This conflict resolution process does not rely on court-imposed resolution, but relies instead on the atmosphere of honesty, cooperation, integrity and professionalism geared toward the future well-being of the family.

Although very similar in nature to the mediation process, one difference is that collaborative law does involve attorneys throughout. Each party will retain an attorney who has been formally trained in the collaborative law process to assist in the goal of minimizing, if not eliminating, negative economic, social and emotional consequences of protracted litigation for the participants and their families.

Despite the attorneys both being present at all sessions, neither party can look to the opposing counsel for legal advice. They are only able to use their own attorney for that purpose. There is no attorney-client relationship between the opposition despite the commitment to negotiating in an atmosphere of honesty and integrity.

Experts and consultants may be brought in during the collaborative law process. Retaining joint experts or consultants can also minimize expenses. Even if the parties decide on a joint expert, they are not obligated to accept the report or opinion of that expert.

If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss mediation, collaborative law or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.