For a lot of us, when we are faced with conflict our response is often to run and bury our heads in the sand, hoping that it all works out. Unfortunately, that isn’t a productive response and things rarely work themselves out. This is especially true when the conflict has to do with the end of a marriage.

No matter how much we want to hide from the world, there are next steps that need to be taken. That is why counselling is something I always recommend when someone I know is going through a separation, especially those that say they “never saw it coming”. Separation or divorce is a loss just like death and those separating spouses need to grieve. A good therapist will help you get through one of the most difficult times in your life.

There are various options available to you when it comes to navigating this event, and they are laid out below so you are better prepared to make the choices that work best for you.

One thing that I want to make clear: there is no one size fits all solution. Your separation does not have to be like that messy court case that you see on TV. It does not have to be a fight. You have the power to direct it to be what works best for you. You have choices.

The first choice you get to make is the kind of negotiation you want. These options for negotiating a separation or divorce are in no particular order, in fact they are a bit of a chicken and egg situation — either could come first, it just depends on what you need, and you can move from one to another if your first choice doesn’t work for you.

1 – Kitchen Table Discussions

This is where you and your partner sit down at your kitchen table and come to an agreement yourselves. I usually advise that each spouse gets independent legal advice from a collaboratively trained lawyer prior to having this sit down just to make sure that you are having the discussion that you need to be having.

Pros: The agreement is mutual and is often the best-case scenario for all, but again on so long as each of you understand what the law says before reaching agreements. You can choose to do something different than what the law says. Yes, you GET TO CHOOSE OR DECIDE. Pay as you go in consulting a lawyer; you don’t need one on retainer. Just pay for the time spent with the lawyer to get advice and strategies to help you negotiate with your spouse.

Cons: It is possible that there are some aspects you are not able to agree on or you find too difficult emotionally to talk through with your spouse alone.

Things needed to be successful: As this is likely the most cost-efficient choice, it works well if two reasonable people are willing to work together and fully share with each other all of their financial information.

2 – Lawyer Negotiation

Each spouse has a lawyer and you make offers and counteroffers back and forth until you are able to come to an agreement.

Pros: It’s still a mutual agreement, just facilitated; you don’t have to face your spouse or talk with them alone.

Cons: There is no time limit on this, it could drag on which can turn out to be expensive.

Things needed to be successful: Reasonable people and a strong willingness to negotiate in a timely manner, with both spouses wanting to move on with their lives, staying civil toward each other without a lot of cost involved.

3 – Court

Each side makes arguments before a judge, who then makes the decision as to how the kids will be raised, where and when; how funds must be exchanged between parents to support each other and their children living in 2 separate homes; and how their things and debts will be divided.

Pros: You will get a decision – there is an end date.

Cons: The agreements are not made by you or your spouse; the argument process can get emotionally messy and very costly; wait times to get a trial date may be long.

Things needed to make it successful: Reasonable spouses that are willing to negotiate and compromise even on the day of court to reach a settlement.

4 – Mediation

This is where the spouses sit down with one neutral mediator who facilitates a conversation to help spouses reach agreements.

Pros: A neutral mediator can change the conversation spouses have had in the past; they can change and improve the communication problems between spouses and reduce the conflict and stress so they and their children benefit from not being exposed to negative conflict between their parents.

Cons: The mediator does not represent you nor can they side with you. The mediator cannot give you legal advice. People often want the mediator to tell them what to do, but that is not the mediator’s job.

Things needed to make it successful: The mediator is able to help spouses have a different type of dialogue and ensures that each of them has independent legal advice at the beginning, at the end, and at any time during the process when necessary.

5 – Collaborative

This is a team approach with the process being the rules of the game from start to finish. Each spouse has their own collaborative family lawyer acting as their lawyer and a co-mediator at the same time. They are beside you throughout the entire process. A neutral, collaboratively trained mental health professional works with parents to improve communication skills and come up with a parenting plan. The team is there to help with the emotions associated with a separation and to help each spouse communicate effectively. A financial neutral will gather all of the financial documentation needed in a much more cost-efficient way.

Pros: No court — instead there is a signed commitment to reach an agreement. This means that means there is no threat of court to push or bully to get a deal. If emotional needs are met, then better agreements and communication skills are developed that will last a lifetime and benefit the entire family.

Cons: You must face your spouse and share your feelings and wants in order to get the best possible understanding from them. This is also critical in ending unintended hurt or incorrect assumptions. If spouses cannot genuinely tell each other what they need and explain its importance this will lead to a lack of success in coming to an agreement. At that point, spouses need to find different lawyers. Collaboratively trained lawyers cannot take your case to court if this process ends.

Things needed to make it successful: Reasonable spouses that know each other are great parents and want their children to continue to have great parents; Each spouse needs to hire a collaboratively trained lawyer. Both spouses are also open to try a different way to talk to each other, willing to become more self-aware of their words and behaviour.


If you are not sure which one of these options will work best for you, consult a collaboratively trained lawyer and they can go over these options with you in more detail helping you find the best option for your circumstance.

Which brings us to the second choice you need to make: your lawyer.

When trying to make this decision, shop around. There are a lot of people who, when they don’t understand how to get what they need without a professional, feel like they are at the mercy of that professional. That is not true. You have the power to make this decision and listen to a lawyer’s advice, but then you decide whether or not to take it. So, whether you are looking for a mortgage, hiring a lawyer, or buying a new shirt, try them on and see how you like them. Then compare them with your other options.

You always have the option to not have a lawyer as well. However, I strongly advise against this as a proper and thorough separation agreement could save a lot of stress and hassle in future. The expertise of a lawyer can make the separation process easier and less stressful.

So, shop around and speak with a few different lawyers. The first lawyer that you see does not have to be your lawyer. Knowing which negotiation option you would like can also help you narrow down your decision. Either way, you need to decide what would work best for you and your family situation.