It may surprise people to learn that most divorces are actually settled out of court. Only when the parties are not able to reach an agreement does the case move on to a trial. My general estimate has been that maybe 2-3% of divorce cases actually go to trial.
There are a number of methods for settling cases outside of court. The traditional method is for both parties’ attorneys to negotiate, often with the help of a mediator. Experienced divorce attorneys generally have a pretty good idea of how the case is likely to turn out if it did go to trial, so they can usually reach an agreement along those lines.
Once in a while, there is an unusual issue that makes it harder to predict an outcome, or there may be clients who have unusual ideas about how the case should turn out, and those things can cause the case to not settle.
Some couples are able to talk to each other and reach an agreement on their own. This requires a couple that works together well, and both individuals are willing to bend over backward to be reasonable. This kind of couple may only need to have lawyers in order to draft the agreements they have reached and prepare the other court documents.
Other couples that want to reach their own agreements but need some assistance getting there will work directly with a mediator. Mediators have various tools in their belt for helping couples get past “stuck”, and can help some cases settle that would not have otherwise.
Another approach is collaborative divorce. This is a good method for the more complex cases, or where the couple wants to make sure they are making the best decisions. Rather than working with a mediator, the couple works with a team of professionals who are all trained in mediation but take on various roles and responsibilities.
There is typically a financial specialist to help the couple analyze the financial issues they face, a divorce coach to help the couple deal with the emotional baggage they bring to the divorce, a parenting specialist to assist with parenting plan development, and an attorney for each side that works closely with the other attorney and the rest of the team to support the clients in reaching an agreement, answer legal questions, and to prepare the legal paperwork to finalize the agreements.