1st meeting: The couple and the mediator identify the issues needed to be discussed and the order in which they will be discussed, then decide what information needs to be gathered and shared. Between the first and later sessions the couple gathers all relevant financial data, or if necessary, the opinions of experts such as appraisers or accountants, with this material treated with the same care and concern as would be the case in the adversarial process.
I treat all parties in negotiations with respect. My goal is not to create winners and losers but to use my creativity, my empathy, and my knowledge of the law to create win-win solutions to the practical problems posed by divorce in a cost-effective way. This approach to reaching divorce agreements avoids the high costs, delays, and interpersonal conflict and stress that are inevitable in litigation through family law courts. As a Springfield divorce attorney mediator, I prepare the legal papers and Massachusetts divorce forms reflecting your decisions so that a judge can approve the separation agreement and issue the divorce decree.
All that being said, be aware that contesting the divorce will add to the duration and expense of the case. Contesting the divorce itself can buy you some time during which to pursue reconciliation, and can be the leverage to obtain your spouse’s agreement to therapy or other reconciliation efforts, but at the end of the day, a persistent party will be able to obtain the divorce.
Many lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $2,500 and $5,000 for average cases, and bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases, so the cost of mediation from beginning to end can be less than the combined retainer fees would be if the parties hired lawyers to handle the divorce.
Sign and file a “Joint Petition for Divorce.” (Divorce court officials sometimes refer to this as the “1A form” and this divorces process as a “1A Marriage Dissolution.”) This is a divorce form that a) states when you were married and last lived together, b) identifies minor or dependent children of the marriage, c) identifies any family law court actions already in process, d) suggests an approximate date when the marriage irretrievably broke down (when it effectively ended), e) requests a divorce, and f) asks the judge to approve your “Separation Agreement” (see below).
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
Having said that, children naturally wonder and ask questions to resolve their own anxiety at a time when their parents have split up, and their family unit and daily routines have dramatically changed. Simply proceed with sensitivity, and be careful not to place the children in the middle of any disputes. Say nothing that would burden them with any guilt, or put them in the position of having to take sides.
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.
3. Be prompt. Courts are slow. Many attorneys, sadly, are chronic procrastinators and deadline-driven. Custody evaluators and Guardian ad Litems are slow. If you’re slow too, it compounds the problem. Furthermore, the quicker you can be in responding to whatever your attorney asks of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to settle your case sooner and at less expense. By acting quickly, attorneys are able to take charge of a divorce process, rather than being driven by court deadlines and various hearings and other requirements which might be avoided just by staying ahead of the game.
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.
It can be difficult for a client to know whether his or her lawyer is performing well or not. Sometimes even the best of lawyers does not achieve the desired result, and it may be due to a difficult set of facts, a bad judge and/or custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, or unrealistic expectations. There are some clear indications of bad lawyering, however, which are objectively obvious:
Divorce can be a difficult and stressful process, even in amicable situations. Navigating the maze of legal issues is confusing for many separating couples. To make matters more complicated, there few hard-and-fast rules and rarely any black-or-white answers. Instead, the outcome of important matters such as property division, alimony and child custody hinges on the unique circumstances of your family.
Another rare exception to the general rule on termination of child support is in the case of emancipated children. An emancipated child is not entitled to child support.  Whether or not a child is “emancipated” is an issue that must be decided by the Court on a case by case basis, but will normally require proof that the child is living away from home and is self-supporting. Termination of child support by reason of emancipation requires a motion in Court.
Denying or interfering with an established parenting time schedule can result in more time being awarded by the court to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time. The court will look at the reasons why the parenting time schedule was not followed. If the court determines that denying or interfering parenting time happens more than once and is on purpose, the court will award more time to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time. The only exception is if the denial of parenting time was to protect the child’s physical or emotional health. The court could also give a penalty to the parent who denied or interfered with the other parent’s regular time, or consider it a factor when deciding on a change of custody.
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.