If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).
If you and your spouse have been unable to resolve issues involving your children, it may be necessary to have a formal custody/parenting-time evaluation. There is generally a monitory cost associated with this evaluation. This evaluation can be conducted by the Court Services workers in the county your action is venued in, if the county has such a department. In most counties this work is contracted out to third parties. Some parties, however, prefer to retain their own neutral expert, typically a child psychologist with expertise in conducting such evaluations. Private evaluations typically are more expensive than those conducted by Court Services. Whoever conducts the evaluation, however, will interview you, your children, and such third parties who have relevant information as are necessary, including other family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors and counselors. They will observe you interacting with your children, and may also administer psychological testing. At the end of this process, some evaluators will first make an oral presentation of their findings in the hope that their summary will facilitate settlement. If not, a formal written report is issued.
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.
Tera is one of the founding members and the managing partner at Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation. She has over 15 years of combined education, training, and professional experience in facilitation, team building, negotiating, and mediating resolutions of all matters. She uses a strengths-based, client-driven approach to develop thorough parenting plans for children tailored to their unique circumstances and future needs. She has experience with complicated parenting issues, children with special needs, mental health issues, domestic partnerships, and other non-traditional relationships. Tera's goal is to develop a comprehensive divorce agreement while minimizing stress and cost.
The court can also consider a change if the parent with custody has denied or interfered with the parenting time of the other parent. However, parenting time problems alone are usually not enough to change custody. Denying or interfering with a parenting time schedule is a factor that a court may consider in deciding to change custody. A judge can also change custody based on the “best interests of the child,” if both parents agreed to use that standard in a writing approved by the court.
Your agreement can include all parts of a divorce or focus on only financial or child-based issues. Again, this is up to you. The mediation process is confidential. Aside from agreements reached in writing, everything said in mediation is confidential. Like a psychologist’s office, your mediator cannot be called as a witness to anything said in mediation. This confidentiality lets couples discuss matters more freely than before a judge and lets them move past and resolve issues.
Mediation is one of the most frequently used methods of negotiating a divorce settlement. In divorce mediation, you and your spouse—or, in some cases, the two of you and your respective lawyers—hire a neutral third party, called a mediator, to meet with you in an effort to discuss and resolve the issues in your divorce. The mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but serves as a facilitator to help you and your spouse figure out what's best.
In most cases, divorce is a difficult and painful process, both emotionally and financially. The traditional practice of hiring a lawyer and litigating in court to end a marriage is not only expensive, but can lengthen the process, increase contention, and cause additional and unnecessary stress on you, your spouse, and your children. Because of this, more and more couples are looking to mediation to walk them through the intricacies of divorce and help navigate parenting agreements. While divorce is rarely an easy event, the goal of mediation is to encourage and support you in developing the best solutions for your individual situation, in a collaborative way and on your time line, which ultimately lessens the negative impact of divorce on you and your family.
Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:
Consultation: Attorneys are available to meet (or telephone or Skype with) individuals to discuss the issues, provide information, and provide guidance. These consultations can often take place prior to the first mediation, after mediation sessions, and then once a final agreement is reached. The cost of these sessions are $125 (telephone) or $155 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)
Mediation is paid by the hour, and the parties generally split the fees equally, or pay the fee out of a joint account. The fees are paid in full either in advance or on the day of mediation. If the parties don’t finalize an agreement during the mediation, the fees paid may include time for the mediator to prepare a written summary, which is provided to both parties.
The attorney representing either the petitioner or the respondent can schedule a temporary relief hearing. The other party must be served with motion papers, including a Motion for Temporary Relief and an Affidavit. Affidavits are written statements signed under oath. The motion papers are legal papers requesting temporary relief from the court and stating the facts on which the request is based. These facts include the income and expenses of each party, who has the children now and why they should be in the custody of the party asking for temporary custody. The motion papers must be mailed or handed to the other party before the hearing. There are certain time periods for giving notice to the other party before the hearing that must be followed when bringing and responding to motions. The petitioner's attorney often has the motion papers served at the same time as the Summons and Petition.
After the mediator has gone over the basics, you'll get a chance to make a short statement about your situation, as will your spouse. After you've each had a chance to speak, the mediator is likely to ask some questions to clarify or get more information. The mediator may also reflect back what you've said, to be sure that both the mediator and your spouse have understood all of your points. The same will go for your spouse.
Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
The cost of mediation may be based on Florida Statutes which provide a reduced rate for couples with a combined income of less than $100,000. Both parties will file a financial affidavit in order to establish the exact fees for divorce mediation. A Florida judge may waive mediation requirements but generally will not do so. Costs associated with divorce mediation may include the mediation costs, filing fees, recording fees, and service of process fees if the mediation is court-ordered. These fees may be levied against the non-prevailing parent if the court determines that parent is able to pay.
Some spouses are under the impression that they must obtain a legal separation to get divorced. To the contrary, legal separation is an alternative to divorce, but the process is almost identical: you file legal paperwork, deal with all the same issues in a divorce, and ask a judge for an order of legal separation. If you plan to divorce, a legal separation is unnecessary and will only increase the total cost of the divorce.
In the mediation process, your mediator will provide you with much of the information and legal background that you need to discuss your issues. At times though, because the mediator must remain neutral, they cannot give either party advice specific to their best interests because that would be against the interests of the other party. Here, a consulting attorney, that is accessed on a limited, as-needed basis, can provide that specific legal advice to help a party decide how to best move forward in the negotiations.
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All people have power in different ways. It is my job as mediator to balance power and ensure that both clients have an equal voice and ability to impact outcomes. In mediation, power comes from knowledge and information. Documented information about assets and liabilities and a broad understanding of each other’s needs are what make you successful in mediation.
I provide legal services for families facing family law issues in Amherst, Springfield, and Western Massachusetts. I specialize in mediation, uncontested divorce, out-of-court divorce negotiations, and divorce consulting and document review. I will work with you to arrive at solutions regarding child support, parenting plans, property division, debt division, and spousal support issues. I will help you to make thoughtful transitions that ensure financial stability, secure parenting plans for children, and legal closure on difficult emotional issues.