Most couples separating or divorcing find that they are in a period of high conflict. Some have experienced constant arguments and fights for months or years; some are reacting to a sudden change of heart.

Regardless of the circumstances and presentation conflict between the between the partners is present and often seemingly impossible to navigate. Most often this conflict results in a traditional type of intervention: retaining attorneys and asking them to resolve the issue.

Two of the many potential pitfalls to traditional legal intervention:

  • Cost - Traditional legal intervention is often quite costly. Most attorneys require a significant retainer (often $2000 or more) from the person they will be representing at the point of hire. An attorney can only represent one spouse, therefore each person has to retain his or her own attorney. It is not uncommon for relatively simple cases to quickly escalate to thousands of dollars per person.
  • Control - Traditional legal intervention tends to put the control of the outcome in the hands of the lawyers as opposed to those living with the outcome (the couple). Every relationship is unique and what works for one couple will not necessarily be the best solution of another. Attorneys focus on the ingredients of the conflict, as they are supposed to, not on the people, emotions, and dynamics involved.

Mediation on the other hand is an excellent option for the vast majority of couples who find themselves splitting up.

Although mediator fees vary, costs to mediate a divorce are typically less than a single attorney retainer in a litigated divorce. Most are able to resolve conflicts entirely through mediation at a fraction of the cost of traditional divorce. For those who cannot find complete resolution through mediation - traditional legal invention is always available, with the added benefit that many of the issues have already been worked out in mediation. Having worked out many issues related your divorce allows attorneys to focus their efforts on those issues still in dispute, lessening the attorney costs. It is important to remember that the vast majority of couples that choose mediation are able to fully resolve their divorce in seven to eight total hours of mediation.

In addition, the agreements reached through mediation are in the sole control of those who have to live with the outcome. A mediator is present to assist the in the resolution, but the agreements are the participants. The mediator is not a judge; does not take sides; does not control the outcome. Those in conflict control how they are going to resolve the issues. No one is asked to agree to something they do not agree to.
Finally, it is not easy to decide to divorce. There is no reason that the emotional distress experienced up to that point needs to continue. Mediation allows those who are divorcing to focus on healing and recovering from the hurt and loss. So often litigation aggravates the emotions of those divorcing; mediation, instead, does not. It focuses on the areas of agreement and assists those in conflict move forward into the next chapter.

[Copyright 2009 Erin Johnston. All rights reserved. Federal law prohibits use of this content in whole or part without written consent of Center for Resolution, LLC. Kindly email reprint requests to ]

Author's Bio: 

Author's Bio
Erin Johnston, MSW, LCSW has been in the field of clinical social work and providing psychotherapy services to wide variety of clients for the past eighteen years. Throughout her career, she has focused on problem solving and conflict resolution, crisis intervention, employee assistance programs, and managed care. Her experience encompasses both profit and non-profit sectors; and includes management, management consulting, and the teaching of social work at the baccalaureate level, peer training, and direct service. She maintains a private practice,, in Chicago and in 2006 she founded Center for Resolution,, a national provider of mediation services.