Despite declining rates, divorce remains common among American families. The American Psychological Association reports that as many as 40 to 50% of U.S. couples end up separating.

While litigation was practically the only option decades ago, today more separating partners are turning toward divorce mediation and collaboration. These alternatives often save money, time and stress.

Mediated divorce

In this type of divorce, both partners agree to meet with a professional, third-party mediator who maintains a neutral stance. The mediator tries to help couples who are willing to work together to communicate and negotiate their needs and expectations while drawing up a divorce agreement that is fair and workable. During the mediation process, spouses may also get input from financial and childcare specialists.

Collaborative divorce

This approach to divorce also prioritizes problem solving and communication over legal maneuvering. However, each spouse retains his or her own collaborative attorney, and all four individuals meet in joint discussion sessions.

This option is often preferable when couples are willing to negotiate and want to settle out of court, but still want to ensure that they receive adequate representation under the law.

Litigated divorce

When separating partners have deep, irreconcilable differences, litigation may be necessary. In this form of divorce, both partners engage counsel, but the final settlement decision is up to the court, including issues of property division, custody and support.

While both mediated and collaborative divorce offer separating couples the flexibility to come up with solutions that fit their specific family circumstances, the law restricts the decisions that a judge makes when a divorce goes to court.