In collaborative law, both parties hire collaborative divorce lawyers and sign a contract with them, in which they agree to resolve their divorce without resorting to litigation. Instead of fighting it out and trying to "win" over each other, the spouses and their divorce attorneys negotiate with each other in private meetings in order to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. If the process doesn't work, then both collaborative lawyers must resign from the case and the parties have to hire new family-law attorneys to resolve their divorce in court.
Like mediation, collaborative family law is a cooperative, cost-effective, and stress-reducing alternative to litigation. But the main difference between collaborative family law and divorce mediation is that, in the latter, the spouses work out their settlement by themselves under the supervision of a mediator. Although it's recommended that each mediating party retain a lawyer to advise them, divorce attorneys generally don't attend mediation conferences; instead, a lawyer drafts the final settlement papers, and the parties' own family lawyers appear in court to finalize the outcome. Another key difference is that the collaborative-law process specifically prohibits litigation.
One unique feature of collaborative divorce is the frequent use of neutral professionals -- such as a financial advisor, divorce coach, or custody evaluator -- to deal with both parties' financial, emotional, or custody/visitation issues. In litigation and mediation, the parties might choose to hire their own professionals to help with these issues on their own sides. But in collaborative family law, these professionals are unbiased and work together with both collaborative family-law attorneys.
Collaborative law is a unique new process that aims to bypass the traditional adversarial divorce -- while constantly employing legal expertise -- through a spirit of cooperation and a mutual agreement not to resort to court.