Don’t Litigate. Instead - Collaborate or Mediate: Divorce Mediation & Collaborative Divorce: Two Alternatives to Litigious Divorce

Karen P. Sampson, Esq.

For those of you who have personally experienced divorce litigation, you may agree that the process can be emotionally and mentally stressful as well as financially draining.   The thought of having to fight “tooth and nail” in court can be terrifying, and the life transitions that naturally come with divorce can be overwhelming.  

As an attorney and mediator, I appreciate the importance of considering the non-litigious options available for divorce.  Although it is possible that a litigious divorce may be the best or only option for some couples, other couples might find non-litigious options, such as Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce, to be better options. 

Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce are two alternatives to litigious divorce that provide divorcing couples the opportunity to resolve divorce issues outside of Court in a non-adversarial environment.  Both alternatives are geared toward providing privacy, dignity and control to divorcing couples.   Thinking “outside the box” is often used in order to find creative, acceptable solutions.  Mutual respect, trust, and common goals help to manage and resolve issues.  Both alternatives require that couples demonstrate good faith and provide disclosure of finances. 

Divorce Mediation provides an environment where divorcing couples can identify and resolve divorce issues with a Mediator, an impartial third party.  The Mediator’s role includes acting as a facilitator, identifying divorce issues, and promoting healthy discussion.  During mediation sessions the Mediator typically focuses on encouraging communication, asking questions, and managing the discussion.  The couple has to work together in an effort to resolve their divorce issues.  Together the husband and wife become the architects of their settlement.  When the mediation process is completed, the Mediator typically prepares a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which is not binding on the couple, but contains the mediated terms.  Each spouse typically takes the MOU to his or her individual attorney to review the mediated terms and continue with the legal divorce process.       

Collaborative Divorce requires each spouse to retain a collaboratively-trained attorney.  A collaborative participation agreement is signed by the divorcing couple and their attorneys.  The couple pledges to put forth their best efforts to resolve the divorce issues outside of Court through the collaborative process.  Although each attorney advocates for his or her client, everyone works together, and in doing so the husband and wife retain control of the process.  A series of meetings are held to discuss the divorce issues.  No adversarial tactics or threats of litigation are allowed.  An atmosphere of honesty, cooperation and integrity geared toward the future well being of the family is relied upon.  Neutral, collaboratively-trained financial and mental health professionals are brought in as needed to help the parties resolve their divorce issues.  If negotiations break down and the husband or wife decide to stop the collaborative process and proceed with a litigious divorce, both of the collaborative attorneys  must withdraw their representation.  In this event, the husband and wife must retain new attorneys to represent them in the litigious divorce.  

Since each divorce situation is unique, the best divorce option for one couple might not be the best divorce option for the next couple.  That being said, Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, if suitable options, may help divorcing couples view issues as “joint problems to be solved” rather than a “fight to win and destroy,” which in the long run may help to preserve family relationships.   

For both Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, the husband and wife must be initially screened to assure the process chosen is appropriate, taking into account the couple’s history and situation.

Karen P. Sampson, Esquire is an attorney and mediator in Moorestown, New Jersey.  Her practice includes Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce.  She is an advocate of the Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce processes and is committed to handling divorces in a respectful, dignified manner, helping families move forward with their lives.  She is a Founding Member of the New Jersey Council of Collaborative Practice Groups and the South Jersey Collaborative Law Group where she currently serves as First Vice President.  Ms. Sampson is also a member of the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators.  She can be reached by phone  at 856.439.0068 or through e-mail at  Her website can be viewed at

As seen in Burlington County Woman and Camden County Woman


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