Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.
If you or your partner are really committed to their narrative—that one person is absolutely the bad guy, for example—mediation might not work. Green says, “There are some people who are quite intensely invested in feeling like the victim: ‘I’m right and the other person is wrong, and there is no universe in which the other person’s actions are acceptable.’”
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.
You do not want to put your divorce in the hands of a mediator, mediate an agreement, only to find that the Court will not accept it. Instead, you want to be able to craft your own agreement which meets, as much as possible, your needs and the needs of your spouse while also keeping the Court’s requirements in mind. This ability gives control back to you rather than investing it in an overworked court system.
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.
Although there are many types of mediation, the mediator’s role in general is to remain neutral; she cannot give advice to either party, nor can she act as either party’s attorney. However, the mediator can and does allow the parties to exchange information and encourage a level of trust in the other party and in the process so that parties can best find a solution that suits both parties.
Although each mediator has his or her own approach, most mediations tend to move along the same lines. You'll usually start with a phone call in which you'll speak with the mediator or an assistant and provide background information about your marriage, your family, and what the issues are. Some mediators want a great deal of basic information before the mediation begins, while others prefer to gather all of the information in the first meeting when everyone is present.
During this stage, the mediator may first begin to discuss the general legal rules that might apply to your case. This can include the laws of your state dictating how a judge would divide your assets and debts, how child custody and child support would be decided, when and how alimony can be ordered, and laws dealing with related issues like taxes and life and health insurance. This general legal information will help you decide how to approach the issues in your case.
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Unless a reasonable support amount is agreed to by the parents, the court shall set child support according to the child support guidelines and worksheet. The court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child's support, without regard to marital misconduct. In addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration the following factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines: (1) all earnings, income, and resources of the parents, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment of the obligor or obligee (2) the financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child or children to be supported; (3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, but recognizing that the parents now have separate households; (4) which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption and what financial benefit the parent receives from it; (5) the parents' debts; (6) the obligor's receipt of public assistance under the AFDC program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
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The other party is often awarded a lien or a mortgage for a share of what the property is worth. A lien is a claim on the property. The party awarded the real estate owes the other party the amount of the lien or mortgage. The Judgment and Decree usually sets a date by which the payment must be paid. If the lien is not paid when due, the party owed the money can ask the court to order the other to pay the lien, or to change division of the property in the Judgment and Decree. In the case of a mortgage, the holder of the mortgage could foreclose.
The court may also require that medical insurance for an ex-spouse continues. For example, group medical insurance rates may not be available to one spouse or may not cover as many medical costs as the insurance available through the other spouse's employer. The court may order that the insurance through one spouse's employer continue. Either party may be ordered to pay the cost. This kind of insurance coverage is part of spousal maintenance.
Fees may be charged on an hourly basis, or by the day or half-day. In general, mediators help the parties meet, explore options, and negotiate a mutual settlement to resolve their dispute. Mediators do not determine who is right or wrong. Instead, they help the parties reach a solution on their own that works for them. Parties should seek mediators with mediation training, experience, and specific knowledge of family law. It's also important to consider the mediator's style and mediation philosophy.
Judges often tell litigants not to argue over the physical custody “label.” They often say that it is not important. Years ago, the physical custody label had a major impact on the issue of child support and out of state moves. Because of statutory changes, that is no longer the case at all. There is debate in the bar as to what if any legal impact the physical custody label has now that those two considerations have been removed.
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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.
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Mediation in divorce is a process by which a mediator or a trained neutral, often a lawyer or mental health professional, helps divorcing spouses reach agreement. The mediator works as a facilitator to guide the divorcing spouses through the process to resolve the outstanding issues. Some divorcing spouses have reached agreement on certain issues, but need assistance resolving other ones, and they attend mediation to address just those issues. Others need assistance with all of the issues. But those who elect mediation are electing to work together to maintain control of their lives. (When individuals litigate and go to court, the judge makes the decision. Those decisions are often not what either side really wants, but once the judge makes the decision, it is the one that controls.)
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. 
Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true. Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce. This is not "illegal." Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons). They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions. The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce. However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.