by Stuart Watson
July 2019Littleton Divorce & Personal Injury Attorney watsonshead

Research has shown that divorce is #2 for the most stressful event that people face in their lives (#1 is the unexpected loss of a loved-one). This is partly due to the complexity of functions that the marriage serves for many people; economic and financial security, a sense of family, home and partnership, extended family and community relationships, identity, future life dreams, and more. Yet, the degree of crisis and suffering people experience during a divorce is also highly related to the manner in which people go through the divorce process.If there are children or any significant property (assets) or debts from the marriage, the spouses will likely be using either a Family Mediator or Family Law Attorneys to help them make the decisions and agreements required by the divorce. Yet, the structure of the divorce mediation process can substantially minimize the financial, time, and emotional (trauma) costs of a divorce, when compared to a standard, litigated (lawyer-driven) divorce process.

Mediation Saves Money

Divorce Costs
Country-wide surveys demonstrate that the divorce costs through mediation are $1,500 – $3,000 for both parties, approximately 10% or less of divorce costs through litigation (typically $15,000 – $40,000). This is a significant benefit of divorce mediation, as families already experience financial strain when they begin supporting two homes; decreasing divorce expenses is a smart, practical business decision.

Future Legal Costs
People are much more likely to be resentful and resistant when major parenting and financial decisions are imposed by attorneys and judges. The increased conflict results in many ex-spouses repeatedly filing for legal appeals and modifications. This type of protracted long-term legal conflict is a huge drain on the family’s financial resources. In contrast, research has demonstrated that people are more invested and committed to agreements they participated in creating as part of a mediated divorce process.

Creative Options
A litigated divorce process provides a cookie-cutter approach, such as sell the house, split the retirement, establish a traditional parenting schedule. Alternately, divorce mediation enables spouses to think outside the box and develop a fair settlement that reflects their unique financial needs and goals. For example, they may trade retirement for house equity so that one spouse can retain the house (and lower living expenses), or develop a parenting schedule which creatively maximizes children’s time with each parent, thereby reducing the time the children spend in paid childcare.

Mediation Saves Time

Divorce Process Duration
The average overall time frame for a family to complete a litigated divorce is 9 months to 2 years, while the average overall time frame for a family to move through the divorce mediation process is 2-4 months. Mediation has a streamlined approach to information-gathering and decision-making, provides reassurance through the rapid progress. This shortens the amount of time all family members have to endure the anxiety and stress of the divorce process.

Post-Divorce Parenting
The adversarial threat, demand, and counter-demand inherent in a litigated divorce establishes a pattern of high-conflict and mistrust during the sensitive time of establishing a new post-separation parenting relationship. Conversely, in divorce mediation parents are coached in making proposals and mutually acceptable agreements about difficult topics. This collaborative problem-solving approach saves time and stress over the long-term by providing parents with the skills to efficiently and respectfully work together around future parenting issues.

Mediation Minimizes Trauma

Protect the Children
The adversarial, litigated divorce is focused on laws and rights, and escalates parental conflict, while research verifies that the most significant divorce factor negatively impacting children’s psychological and emotional health during a divorce is the amount of conflict between the parents. This is particularly the case when children are involved in a high conflict custody battle where they are dragged into court or involved in custody evaluations.

In contrast, divorce mediation is oriented towards meeting the needs of the whole family in the context of the law. An experienced mediator can assist the parents in creating a shared narrative and teamwork approach for supporting the children through the transition, and in making agreements that prevent children from being dragged into conflicts, loyalty conflicts, or bad-mouthing the other parent.

Personal Empowerment
For the spouse who did not initiate the divorce, one of the elements of the divorce trauma is not being at choice about how their life is drastically changing. Mediation can restore some of this personal empowerment: The mediators guide spouses through their parental, financial, and legal options so they can take responsibility and make their own informed decisions about what is best for themselves and their family, instead of attorneys and judges taking control and making those decisions for them.

Privacy and Confidentiality
The vulnerability, devastation and trauma of a divorce can be heightened when several unknown others are involved or witnessing the family drama. Unlike a litigated divorce, your divorce process in mediation will not have hearings open to the public and become part of the public record. Mediation confidentiality is protected by State laws. All verbal and written communications, all draft agreements, and disclosures are confidential.

Family and Friends
One of the greatest sources of trauma from a conflict-ridden litigated divorce is the sudden loss of relationship between a spouse and their in-laws, friendships and community, as the negativity of a legal battle forces others to choose sides. With mediation, the collaborative divorce process demonstrates to family and friends that the spouses are working together with mutual respect and integrity to make the difficult decisions required by an unfortunate divorce.

Emotional Healing and Closure
People often hire lawyers with the erroneous assumption that a judge will hear their case and validate the rightness of their position. In truth, only 10% of litigated divorce cases actually go to trial. Oregon is also a “no-fault state,” meaning that the spouses’ wrongdoing towards each other is largely irrelevant to the court’s decisions. Conversely, a well-trained divorce mediator can assist willing parties in discussing the decision to divorce, and in being heard about, and bringing closure to the wounds of the relationship.

A version of this article originally appeared on


Stuart Watson is a Portland, Oregon based Mediation Trainer, a Family and Divorce Mediator with Oregon Divorce Guides, LLC. He is the author of the 78–card Relationship Help Toolkit called The Relationship Repair Game. Stuart has been teaching conflict resolution and mediating for nearly 20 years, as a Family Mediator with Progressive Mediation and Mediation Trainer with Resolutions Northwest. Stuart is also the co-founder of the Oregon Network for Compassionate Communication.

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