There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce. However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services. If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce.
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1. You just might settle the case. The parties involved have the most information about their situation, and therefore are in the best position to craft a creative solution specifically tailored to them. Judges, on the other hand, are bound by case law, statutes, and rules and must provide a solution for the parties that fits within this framework.
Very few divorce cases actually go to trial. Most cases are settled before the trial begins. Usually the attorneys and the judge have a short meeting before the trial starts. The purpose of this meeting is to decide what must be addressed during the trial and what has already been settled by the parties. The attorneys also make agreements so that the trial will be easier, faster, and less formal. For example, they might agree on the order in which witnesses will testify.
Conversely, there is no way to finalize your divorce through mediation alone. Even if you reach a tentative agreement in mediation, this agreement must be formalized in a written stipulation, signed by both parties and their attorneys, and ultimately approved by the Court.  This signed stipulation — not your verbal agreements from mediation sessions — is what becomes the enforceable terms of your divorce, and should be prepared or at least reviewed and revised by your lawyer before you sign.
Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
After the mediator covers the rules of mediation and insures that any necessary agreements to mediate are signed, the mediator explains the mediation process. The parties or their representative may then make opening statements to identify issues and clarify perceptions. Many mediators will encourage the parties to begin a conversation during general caucus.
A family law mediator is a neutral party specially trained to help couples resolve the issues in their divorce. The mediator facilitates the communication between the parties by making sure each party is given an uninterrupted time to speak, asking a party to restate or explain a point when necessary, and asking questions to make communication clear. The mediator also provides information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by lawyers or judges, and what alternatives there are for solving issues. When necessary, the mediator will refer the couple to third party experts for services such as appraisals.
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.
A divorce can get complicated if the parties have property (real estate, automobiles, vacation property, pensions, jewelry, etc.) or minor children. Usually, the divorce can be done more quickly if the spouses agree on how to divide the property and handle custody and parenting time with the children. Many cases start out with a lot of disputes, but then the parties are able to reach an agreement. Parties often reach agreement after using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services outside of court. NOTE: If you feel threatened by or unsafe with the other party, you may want to get legal advice or help from an advocate before using ADR.