Mediation and collaborative law are methods of alternative dispute resolution, which are methods in which opposing parties settle their differences outside of the courtroom. Though collaborative law is newer than mediation, both have proven to be successful tools when it comes to family law cases, and more specifically divorce proceedings.

Attorney Ashley-Nicole Russell authored The Cure for Divorce Culture, which offers a deep dive into the world of collaborative law, and the ways in which this alternative method to resolve disputes impact the lives of those who participate in them. As an expert in mediation as well as a collaborative divorce attorney, Ashley-Nicole Russell provides firsthand accounts of the ways in which the courtroom may be harmful, and the ways in which these alternative dispute resolution methods make all the difference.


What is mediation?

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process which is facilitated by a neutral third party called a mediator. The mediator is present to oversee the process, help parties reevaluate the issues at hand, and aid in coming to mutually acceptable solutions.

What does the process look like?

The process will begin with parties attending a mediation session with their attorneys. The mediator will allow both parties to share their side without interruption, caucus with each party separately, and continue facilitating negotiations until it is evident that a settlement will or will not be reached.

If a settlement is reached, an agreement will be drafted, approved, and signed by both parties. If settlement is not reached, the parties can either move on, choose another alternative method, or take their case to court.

Benefits: How can I use mediation to level up?

Time + Money: Taking a case to trial carries the possibility of proceedings lasting over a year depending on the docket and complexity, and over that time accruing large amounts of money to be paid. With mediation, the parties are not at the mercy of these extenuating circumstances. This gives clients the opportunity to save valuable time and money.

Client Control in Outcome: Taking a case to trial ultimately leaves its outcome in the hands of the presiding judge or jury, depending on the type of case at issue. This gives the client less control over and sense of certainty in the eventual resolution. Mediation allows both parties to exercise control over the process. Both parties may veto any proposed outcome or resolution, allowing peace of mind that they will not be stuck with an unfavorable resolution lest they choose to accept it.

Neutrality: Finally, mediators are completely neutral third parties who stand to gain nothing from any outcome that is reached in the proceedings. This can serve to be comforting and reassuring for all involved.

Collaborative Law

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law is a more recent advancement in alternative dispute resolution which is generally used in family law and divorce proceedings. The hallmark of the collaborative process is its separation from the court. If litigation is threatened or pursued, the collaborative process terminates, and the parties will have to retain different attorneys to begin the process anew. This method is particularly popular with family law cases due to the unique trait that the relationships between the parties will often continue once settlement is reached, particularly when children are involved. Collaboration allows the parties to work together rather than as adversaries to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion.

What does the process look like?

First, parties must ensure they understand what collaborative law is and make the decision it is for them. They will then hire their own attorneys to represent them moving forward. The parties and their attorneys will meet to discuss next steps, reiterating the understanding that collaborative proceedings do not allow for litigation or court involvement. The parties, attorneys, and other professionals will then work together to identify issues, come up with solutions, and work toward a settlement.

Once a mutually agreeable solution is found, a Collaborative Law Settlement Agreement will be drafted and signed by both parties. As noted in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-75, the parties may ask the court at this time to enter a judgment reflecting the terms of the settlement agreement.

Benefits: How can I use collaborative law to level up?

Avoiding Court: Collaboration not only allows, but requires, the parties to stay out of court and avoid litigation. This provides a slew of benefits for the individuals and families involved, including saving ample time and money.

Avoiding the courtroom and trial also avoids the possibility of the parties involved having to bear witness to testimony. Trial is an adversarial, rather than collaborative, process, so testimonies have the chance of being harmful and targeted, which can have negative impacts on continued relationships after settlement.

Malpractice Stats [ABA]: In July 2018, the American Bar Association published an article which stated that in the twenty six years since collaborative law had been a method of alternative dispute resolution, there had been no malpractice cases concerning representation in them.

Attorney Motivation: Though attorneys will always be zealous advocates, collaborative attorneys may have even more motivation to help you reach your desired outcome. Because attorneys who engage in the collaborative process cannot represent their clients if trial becomes necessary to settle differences, they must be driven to find creative solutions which are mutually acceptable.

Involvement of Specialists: Collaborative proceedings involve not only attorneys, but also financial and mental health specialists. Financial specialists are neutral parties who gather data related to the parties’ finances to be used as a shared resource throughout the process. Mental health specialists are there to help the parties manage their stress. This process allows understanding and room for emotion and provides valuable resources for coping with these often-difficult circumstances.

Control + Creative Solutions: Much like mediation, parties and their attorneys have more control over the outcome and proceedings and are given the opportunity to come up with creative solutions. The parties and their representatives may then focus on what is important for them both and resolve the issue in a way that works for everyone.

Leaving the Children Out of It: Divorce proceedings, especially in the courtroom, often involve the children of the individuals seeking to dissolve their marriage. As detailed in The Cure for Divorce Culture, studies have shown that children exposed to their parent’s trauma and resulting intense emotions, particularly when both parents are involved, mirror those heightened emotional responses. Not only does this lead to emotional deregulation, it can also lead to substance abuse, suicide, and divorce.

Collaborative law allows for an environment where emotions are less heightened, and parties are working together rather than against one another. Additionally, at ANR Law, the parties agree to leave their children out of any conflict, making an intentional effort to not allow any negativity leak over to children.

Real-World Translation: The collaborative process also provides families with conflict resolution tools which they can use following the settlement of their dispute. This is especially important in family law cases where children are involved, because the parties will likely have a continuing relationship following these proceedings. Collaboration allows the parties to work together rather than in opposition.

As detailed in The Cure for Divorce Culture, not only can the circumstances leading up to divorce have long term impacts on children involved, the continuing relationships after the fact may have the same effects. When there is animosity which continues into post-divorce relationships, behavior such as one parent bad-mouthing the other in front of their child, or a parent being preoccupied with their own trauma to be able to adequately care for their child, are more likely to occur. This can lead to lack of emotional regulation, lack of brain connection development, and an anxious attachment style being reflected in the children exposed. When there is less animosity in divorce proceedings, as is the case in collaborative law, positive relationships throughout and following a divorce flow more easily, resulting in less detrimental impacts on children.

If you are interested in learning more about your rights, and how to proceed with out-of-court processes like Collaborative Law. AN|R Law is here and we are proud to serve North Carolina. We have four locations in Raleigh, Greenville, Beaufort, and Wilmington. Along with my legal team, we are committed to helping North Carolina families in a healthy manner that protects their finances as well as the wellbeing of themselves and their children. If you would like to connect, you can follow the AN|R social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You can also check out my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture, and listen to my podcast, Divorce, Healthy! which is available on all major listening platforms.

You can learn more about working with AN|R Law: A Negotiated Resolution for collaborative divorce and other family law matters in North Carolina by reaching out to our office. You can call 252-702-4376 or fill out this online contact form.

If you are interested in inviting me, Ashley-Nicole Russell, to speak at your next event or conference, I would be honored. I am currently booking in-person and virtual speaking engagements for 2024 and 2025. Please reach out to my team by emailing


Ashley-Nicole Russell, Esq., The Cure for Divorce Culture: Repairing the Damage Within a Lost Class of People (2d ed. 2019). mediators-nor-negotiators–collaborative-lawyers-emphasi/ mediation-session