Mediation vs. Litigation: Choosing the Right Path for your Family Court Case

a man and a woman sitting at a table in a conference room mediating a dispute with an attorney

When a family law dispute arises, it is easy and understandable to fixate on the desired outcomes—how you want the dispute to be resolved. But another almost-as-important consideration is how do you get there? Determining whether mediation is a viable option for your situation can save you considerable time and money.

Although we are primarily known for our litigation practices, we will be the first ones to tell you that litigation is not always the best path. It can be corrosive, tedious, and really expensive. So one of the first things we do with new clients is go over the various approaches to resolve every dispute. There are other options. Mediation is one of the most popular options.

What is Mediation

Mediation is a collaborative process where individuals work with an impartial third party, the mediator, to try to reach agreements. Unlike litigation or some other family court processes, mediation is voluntary and confidential. The mediator does not make any decisions or enter any orders, it is totally up to the parties to decide whether they are willing to accept any particular outcome. Obviously, this affords the parties considerably greater control over the outcomes than they would have if they went to court and asked a judge to decide everything. A good mediator will help the parties think creatively to bridge the gaps between their starting positions and arrive at mutually-acceptable outcomes. This is another benefit of mediation because there are solutions available outside of court that are not available through litigation processes. Typically, mediation is significantly less expensive for the parties, too. It is also less adversarial than litigation. So the flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and ability to preserve personal relationships make mediation an attractive option for parties who truly want to resolve disputes. This is a really important qualifier because if one party is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, mediation is unlikely to be a productive experience. This can be one of the biggest downsides to mediation. Sometimes parties attend several sessions and spend a significant amount of money only to have one party walk away from the negotiating table altogether. This returns the parties to the starting point and all of the mediation costs and the time taken is lost.

What is Litigation

Litigation is an umbrella term used to refer to going to trial and asking a judge to resolve the disputes. Unlike mediation, litigation offers a structured framework that is certain to result in a resolution. However, it has its own drawbacks. It is inherently an adversarial process, especially if the parties resort to personal attacks. It can be extremely emotional and because it is a public system, litigation can take a long time. The average timeline for a divorce or child custody case is probably somewhere between 8-12 months. Single issue cases like child support modifications or enforcements can move a little bit more quickly, but ultimately the timeline is largely out of the litigants' control and dependent upon the judge's calendar. These extended timelines can make the process very expensive. These costs can be minimized somewhat by choosing a law firm that prioritizes efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Litigation does not have to be "scorched earth" conflict escalation. Our attorneys are often able to resolve contentious disputes with just a few letters to the opposing party or their attorney.

So which is better

The answer depends on several factors, including: the nature of the dispute(s), the desired outcomes for both parties, and—most importantly—the parties' willingness to cooperate and collaboratively seek resolution. Mediation really requires a certain level of trust or confidence in the other party. If that is not present, then it can be best to start the court processes because you can always seek mediation (or other forms of alternative dispute resolution) during the litigation. Doing so can hedge against the expense of unsuccessful mediation and keep your case moving forward regardless of its outcome.


While mediation offers flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and collaborative problem-solving, litigation provides a structured legal process for resolving complex disputes. By understanding the differences between mediation and litigation and considering relevant factors, individuals can navigate legal conflicts more effectively and achieve satisfactory resolutions. If you are involved in a family law dispute and are unsure how to proceed, contact us to schedule a free initial consultation.