The flowchart below gives an overview of different processes for completing a divorce in Massachusetts. In 95% of divorce cases in Massachusetts, the final terms of the divorce are agreed upon in a separation agreement that is written up outside of court and presented to a judge who approves it in a 20-minute hearing. There are very different routes, however, for reaching this separation agreement and brief hearing. In many cases, there are court actions–litigation or “contested divorce” processes–before a couple agree on the terms of the divorce in a separation agreement.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.
Seeing headlines like these, who doesn't think that hiring a $1,000-an-hour divorce attorney is the best way to get what you deserve? But in reality, divorce isn't a winner-take-all sport. In community property states (like California) courts have to split marital property down the middle. In states that don't have community property laws (like New York) they split assets equitably.
In some cases, the court may order spousal maintenance for a limited time while the spouse returns to school or trains for employment.  Permanent spousal maintenance may be awarded if the court finds that one of you will not be able to adequately support yourself.  The court will consider age, health, education, work experience, skills and other factors.

When discussing issues concerning custody parental access, think about where your kids will spend most of their time: where they go to school, where they take dance and karate and other extra-curricular activities. Think about whether they have any special needs and how you’ll care for them, how you’ll cover any private school or college costs, and where they’ll spend birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.


Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.
In order to make informed decisions as to division of marital property, and appropriate amounts of child support and spousal maintenance, it is necessary for each party to be fully informed of identity of each parties' income and assets. This information is typically exchanged through a process known as discovery. This is a process in which the lawyers may utilize numerous techniques for obtaining the financial information necessary to fairly identify and value all income and assets. The lawyers may informally by letter request the information they feel is necessary to identify all marital income and assets, or, in some cases may feel the need to serve "Interrogatories" and "Requests for Production of Documents” which are formal questions and requests for financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, financial statements and other information, which must be answered and sworn to under oath, within thirty days. In today's practice, some court's control what discovery they will allow, and may not immediately allow for the service of formal discovery, preferring the parties first use informal discovery. The attorneys may also notice the depositions of the parties themselves, or other people who may have relevant information, such as bankers and business associates. At a deposition the witness is sworn under oath, and the attorneys ask questions of the witnesses, which testimony is preserved in writing by a court reporter. The attorneys may also employ experts, such as "vocational evaluators," in the event it is alleged that a spouse who has not been working or who has only been working part time, is able to earn income to contribute to their support. They may also employ accountants or other business valuation experts to appraise family-owned or closely-held businesses. They may also employ other experts to appraise other assets such as real property and personal property, such as furnishings, jewelry and artwork.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.
You can also go to court to get an order to change or set a parenting time schedule or for supervised parenting time. The court may send you to a parenting time expeditor before the court hears your motion for a change in parenting time.  The court can order mediation or you can voluntarily agree to use mediation to try to resolve parenting time problems.  If one parent denies parenting time, the other parent can go to court to request more parenting time or even to change custody.  The court will look at whether or not there was a good reason for denying parenting time. Abuse of the children would likely be a good reason to deny parenting time.  
Mediationis one ADR method. In mediation, the parties try to work out an agreement between themselves with the help of a neutral third person called a mediator.  The mediator helps the parties discuss their disagreements, make compromises and reach their own agreement.  Mediation can be helpful because both of you have agreed to the outcome rather than having a big fight and the judge makes decisions for you.  Mediation about custody or parenting time can be helpful because you both will continue to be parents to your children and together you can continue to work out parenting issues.  In mediation both of you should be able to say what you want and cooperatively work out compromises.  If you don't understand things or don't feel you have equal power with your spouse, the mediation is not fair.  You can stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.  You only have to try to settle.  You can't be forced to agree to something.
What the mediator can do, though, is assist the divorcing couple in formulating ideas that can eventually lead to agreements that will stand the test of time. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.

Karen is a mediator with multiple sources of experience transforming complex disputes into mutually beneficial outcomes. Karen is available for mediations, meeting and workshop facilitation, and conversation coaching. Her subject-matter expertise includes environmental, and the cultural and technical intersections of fee and tribal trust land. This ... more
Judges, evaluators, and guardians will often pontificate about the virtue of compromise and settlement, as if this were the ultimate objective of any reasonable person, rather than as a means to an end. They speak as if both parties are equally to blame for a failure to settle, when in fact such failure is often the result of only one of the parties, who is being excessively greedy, obnoxious, stubborn, or selfish.
Being open to compromise means that you aren't attached to one particular solution—you can't just put your idea on the table and expect your spouse to accept it. A compromise that works is one that takes both of your interests into account. Consider the possibility that your spouse might have valid ideas as well, and take the time to think them through instead of rejecting them out of hand.
When deciding which party to award a marital pet, a compelling argument is the pet’s attachment to the children. If there are minor children involved, who are very attached to the pet, the Court will likely award the pet to whichever parent has primary residence of the children. Another compelling argument is which party cares most for the pet. If you can prove that you were the one primarily responsible for feeding the pet, taking it to the vet, walking it, etcetera, then you will be much more likely to be awarded the pet.
I use only processes—mediation, collaborative law divorce, and out-of-court negotiation—that emphasize open, respectful communication. I am currently not taking "contested" cases, in which each spouse hires a lawyer and fights in court. If you have been served with divorce papers or need legal representation in court, you should contact a different attorney.
The maintenance order shall be in amounts and for periods of time, either temporary or permanent, as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors including: (a) the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the party, and the party's ability to meet needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian; (b) training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party's age and skills, of completing education or training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting; (c) the standard of living established during the marriage; (d) the duration of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience have become outmoded and earning capacity has become permanently diminished; (e) the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance; (f) the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; (g) the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and (h) the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party's employment or business. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
The Summons is a separate legal paper telling the respondent to answer the Petition within 30 days.  If the respondent does not, he or she is in default and the divorce is uncontested.  This means the petitioner (the spouse who wanted the divorce) may be granted the divorce and other relief requested.  The Summons also forbids both parties from selling or getting rid of any property or harassing one another.  It requires each party to maintain any insurance for the family.  If one spouse spends money belonging to both parties after receiving the Summons, he or she will have to explain to the court why the money was spent.

Civil lawsuits- those involving land, inheritance, or services provided, are most often moved to the end of any Court’s calendar. Often, a civil matter will not be heard before a judge for more than two years after the case is filed with the Court. This long delay for justice/resolution, together with the high costs of trial, often make litigation impractical. It is not uncommon for attorney fees, expert witness fees, filing fees, court reporter fees and other related costs to exceed the amount in dispute.
After service, the receiving spouse must file an answer. If the spouses agree on the conditions of their divorce, they may file a Stipulate Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree, which will put them on a proverbial fast track to ending their marriage. However, if the receiving spouse disagrees with the petitioning spouse, then he or she may serve the petitioning spouse an answer that explains why he or she disagrees.
If you can afford an attorney, but don't know any, ask a friend who was satisfied with his or her attorney.  You can also look in the yellow pages under "Attorneys."  You can contact the local bar association's attorney referral service listed below.  The Lawyer Referral Service can give you the name and telephone number of an attorney in private practice in your area who may be able to represent you.  You may have to pay an initial fee for the first appointment with the attorney.  You may be able to negotiate how much you will pay the attorney for representation in a divorce. Many attorneys will ask for payment of some money before the divorce is begun. This is called a retainer.
The court can appoint a "parenting time expeditor" (previously called a “visitation expeditor”).  This “expeditor” is a neutral person who will help solve problems about parenting time. An “expeditor” may not be available in all counties.  If an agreement is not reached, the expeditor will make the decision. The decision of the parenting time expeditor is "non-binding."  This means that the court can change the decision if either party brings a motion asking the court to resolve the dispute.  Until changed by the court, the parents must follow the expeditor’s decision. 
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