Couples who are headed for a trial date may be ordered by the court to go through mediation before that date is set, however, mediation can also be voluntary. If the couples are unable to resolve their issues through mediation, they are free to pursue any other remedies they choose. Mediation is generally better for the children involved, as it allows the couple to make decisions which are in the best interests of the entire family in a non-contentious manner. Children can be damaged by hearing their parents argue and say things to one another that children should not hear. Many parents who end up litigating their divorce are not hesitant to say ugly things about the other parent in front of the children. Parents who make a conscious decision to mediate their divorce, are also more likely to be aware of ensuring the children are not privy to contentious behavior between the parents.
In almost all cases, you will be required to attempt some form of alternative dispute resolution. This will typically take the form of "mediation" which is a process in which a neutral third party, typically an attorney trained in mediation, will attempt to assist the parties in reaching their own compromise settlement of some or all issues between the parties. The mediator does not make decisions, but rather facilitates a discussion between the parties (sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of counsel) aimed at reaching settlement of your issues. The mediation process is confidential, and if you are not successful in reaching a mediated settlement, the judicial officer will never learn what positions either party took in mediation. As part of the mediation process, the mediator will request both parties provide an accurate summary of income, assets and liabilities. It is recognized that sometimes, one party controls some or all of this information, and skilled mediators attempt to assure that there is a full and fair disclosure of financial information, and a full and fair discussion of the issues.
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 parties may expressly preclude or limit later modification of maintenance through a stipulation, if the court makes specific findings that the stipulation is fair and equitable, is supported by consideration described in the court's findings, and that full disclosure of each party's financial circumstances has occurred. The stipulation must be made a part of the judgment and decree.
The traditional divorce process can be extremely expensive and can create an adversarial climate that can require lengthy litigation, which is often unnecessary. With divorce mediation, our goal is to create an environment that is more collaborative by working together toward solutions to ensure divorcing couples end up with an arrangement that works for them, their kids if applicable, and their budgets.
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.