Divorce Satisfaction: Litigation vs. Collaboration vs. Mediation

lorisa stein divorce satisfaction family law ligitationHow satisfied are family law or divorce clients using the different processes available to them?

Let’s compare client experiences and people’s satisfaction under each process within the various family law approaches:

  • the Litigation/family court process,
  • the Collaborative approach to family law,
  • and the Mediation process to family law

by considering the available literature & research. Understandably, this blog necessitates a brief limited overview.

I looked at The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals published the article “What Clients Say About Their Experience in the Collaborative Process” by Linda Wray, JD in The Collaborative Review Spring 2012/ Vol. 12, Issue 1, pages 17 -21, IACP. For the Litigation and Mediation divorce experiences, I reviewed the research conducted by Lori Anne Shaw “Divorce Mediation Outcome Research: A Meta-Analysis” published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Vo. 27, No. 4 Summer 2010, pages447-467; Wiley Periodicals Inc., and the Association of Conflict Resolution.

Taking that research information into account and cross-referencing all the information here are the findings along with anecdotes gathered at informal gatherings. The findings are in no particular order:

  1. The relative effectiveness of the process, and the results achieved, matter to the participants.
  2. Satisfaction in the Mediation and Collaborative processes generally was superior to that of the Litigation process whether the resolution was obtained or not.
  3. The greatest satisfaction of parents was how their children’s needs were respected as well as the information they received beyond the legal matters. Learning about their children’s psychological and emotional needs were well received as value-added benefits available in the Collaborative process and in the Mediation process. The parents’ experience in the Litigation process was perceived as limited and not very satisfying. The degree of control over the process, whether it was Litigation, Mediation or Collaborative, was not felt as satisfying for the spouses with children.
  4. In the Collaborative process, the male spouses were significantly more satisfied than female spouses with their ability to address concerns directly with their spouse and to maintain a constructive relationship with them at the group face to face meetings.
  5. There appear to be similar levels of satisfaction among family participants in the three processes with respect to understanding how support and property sharing was handled in their own situations. In other words, the clients felt they were able to understand the mechanics of the calculations irrespective of the family law dispute resolution process they were involved in.
  6. It is evident that the purpose or goal of the process must be clearly addressed at the outset. In any process, the spouses may find adrift. Uncertain about what the next steps will be. With all the discussions and decisions to be made, some spouses find themselves reflecting on whether their marriage was truly at an end. With the possibility of reconciliation occurring, the Mediator in the Mediation Process and the neutral facilitator in the Collaborative process should be asking the clients at the initial group meetings what they see as their goals in the process. The research indicates that dissatisfaction arises when the clients became confused as the goal or function of the process.

Don’t Sit Back

All clients, no matter which process they choose or find their spouse has already initiated, need to ask of their divorce lawyers and the process facilitator:

  • What can this process do for me and my family? and
  • What can I expect?

What the process can do relates to not only what concerns can be handled and, equally important, is how they will be handled. The Mediation process for example has different orientations just as the Collaborative process can be adapted to the needs and nature of the matters to be resolved. The Ontario family law Litigation process does allow at the conference stages for a judge-facilitated mediation to encourage the narrowing or resolution of some of the issues on the table.

Expectations should be discussed with your divorce lawyer. They will be listed in initial pleadings exchanged in the Litigation and Meditation processes or talked through in the first joint session in the Collaborative process. Reasonable expectations will be welcomed and demonstrate a willingness to find a mutually acceptable resolution. Extreme or aggressive positions taken in Litigation will escalate and encourage reciprocity resulting in entrenched positions.

Asking what can this process do for me and my family and what can I expect will allow you to explore at a deeper level the advantages and disadvantages of each process and assess the level of satisfaction you’ll likely experience before beginning the journey.