Collaborative Law vs Mediation vs Litigation: What is the Difference?

a man walking trying to decide which divorce law process makes sense collaborative law, mediation, or litigation

Starting the path down the road to divorce does not look the same for everyone.  This is because the reason for a divorce is going to be different from one household to another.  If a divorce is relatively amicable, there is no reason that the divorce itself has to be nasty or messy.  However, many people think that divorce is always confrontational to some degree. Before diving too deep into family law, it will be helpful to learn about the three different processes in divorce law (collaborative law, mediation, and litigation). This will help you decide which is going to be the best approach for you, your partner, and your individual situation.

A Collaborative Approach

This is a modern form of divorce law, and it is often the one that most divorce specialists will recommend simply because it prioritizes everyone’s protection while keeping costs down, and limits undue stress.  True to its name, it is focused on true collaboration on both sides of the table.  Both parties in the divorce will have a divorce lawyer, and the goal is to make sure that both professionals agree to work together while keeping the best interests of their clients in mind to resolve the family law issue at hand.

Both sides agree to keep things out of the court system and settle things with the lawyers handling everything.  The goal is for each party to have their rights explained to them and that the divorce lawyer will help explain the best path to divorce for their client.  While they will offer these recommendations, it is up to each client to decide what approach they actually want to take.

Collaborative is an interdisciplinary process. You and your partner will jointly retain a Family Professional who will help you navigate the emotional journey, create a parenting plan and develop productive new ways to communicate with each other. The Financial Professional will assist you in exchanging the financial information, considering child support and spousal support options and resolve the financial issues. Using these two neutrals keeps your costs to a minimum and gives you the opportunity to work with experts.


In family law, this is often seen as the quickest resolution to divorce, mostly because it takes a lot of emotion out of the divorce itself. You will work with a mediation lawyer or mediator who will support a healthy and productive conversation to find solutions to the issues that arise. This kind of divorce process is supposed to be the most cost-effective as well as the easiest when it comes to any potential emotions. It is a modern approach in divorce, and it is recommended in situations where the divorce is mutual and the goal is to keep things simple.  This is often a good path when it comes to minimal assets, too, such as marriages with no children and/or simple finances.


This is the traditional kind of divorce law that you hear about and see in the movies.  It involves both parties in a courtroom. Each of you has a lawyer who will fight for an order to get the best asset ownership and solutions for their client.  The process is slow. It often takes years to resolve the outstanding issues. In many cases, the conflict escalates when the Family Court is involved.  Most divorce lawyers will recommend avoiding this approach unless it’s absolutely necessary.

The differences to be aware of in making your choice

There is no “right” choice for everyone.  The goal is to pick the path that feels the best for you.  Mediation can work for those who are separating with less complex issues and are amicable.    Collaborative law is similar to mediation but with both sides working with their own lawyer and two neutral experts who help you find the best solution for the whole family.   Litigation is a good match for couples who are fighting or otherwise feeling like they need to defend themselves publicly in a courtroom.

Wherever possible, mediation and collaboration are the recommended paths to take. These processes save time, stress, emotional upset, and money.  Litigation is necessary if one of the parties is unwilling to negotiate or is completely unreasonable.

Most family law firms will have uniquely qualified attorneys for each of these positions so that all of the bases are covered under one firm and clients can know that they have all that they need in one spot.

Whether you are familiar with these different approaches to divorce law or not, it is reassuring to know that you can match the approach that you take with the need that you are looking to fill.  Much like any other family situation, there is no such thing as one size fits all, so it can be helpful to know that you can take the same approach with something as personal as a divorce lawyer and your upcoming separation.

At Galbraith Family Law our team of divorce and separation law specialists are here for you each step of the way. From planning your first steps to approaching your separation to helping you understand your rights, to signing those final documents, we can help you navigate the separation and divorce process. To get started today, create a free separation plan on our website, or book a consultation with one of our professional family lawyers. To schedule a consultation, give us a call at one of our five locations across Ontario. For our Toronto offices call 647-370-8965, for our Newmarket office call 289-210-4692 or you can reach us at our Barrie office at 705-230-2734. Whenever you are ready, we are here for you.

Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

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