Mediation or Collaborative Divorce in California

Many spouses filing for divorce want to avoid a confrontational experience – if it’s at all possible.  They may not agree on many issues, but with the help of others, they might be able to settle their differences without court appearances.

To assist Californians in non-contentious divorces, California has numerous options.

Summary Dissolution

Summary dissolution is for married couples who have been married for less than five years, have no children together (either before marriage, after marriage or adoption), have no real property (either together or separately), have less than $45,000 accumulated in personal property together (known as community property), except for motor vehicles, and less than $6,000 in community debt (also known as community obligations), except for motor vehicles.  For more information visit the California Courts website at

If you and your spouse do not qualify for a summary dissolution, California offers other options as well, such as mediation or collaborative divorce.


In mediation, an impartial person (the mediator) assists divorcing spouses in reaching decisions that both spouses can accept.  He or she helps the spouses settle the issues in their divorce for themselves.  There is no pressure from the mediator.  He or she will not force either spouse to do anything.  Mediators do not make the decisions. Agreements can only be reached if everyone agrees. If the spouses cannot agree on some or all of their issues, they can still go into court and have a judge make the decisions for them.

To find a mediator to help you:

  • Contact a community organization,
  • Check your local telephone directory (most have a section for mediation),
  • Search on the Internet,
  • Contact your local bar association, or
  • Contact the local court to see if they have a mediation panel.

Collaborative Divorce

In a collaborative divorce both spouses have their own lawyers and other professionals to help them resolve the issues in their divorce.  These professionals may include accountants and child psychologists – those expert opinions that would be helpful in resolving the spouses’ concerns.

First each spouse meets with his/her lawyer.  Then the spouses and lawyers meet on a regular basis, and if necessary, professionals are included in the meetings.  The goal is to settle the divorce issues without having to go to court.  Usually the spouses and their lawyers sign a contract that they all agree they will not go to court.  However, if the spouses cannot reach an agreement and they have to go court to resolve their issues, their lawyers must withdraw from the case.  The spouses will have to get new lawyers to represent them in court.

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