What is the difference between legal separation and divorce in Massachusetts? Spouses can live separately, but there is no “legal separation” status in Massachusetts family law. You are either married or divorced. It is, however, possible to be married, live separately, and receive “separate support” for spousal support or child support. This requires filing a Complaint for Separate Support.
In mediation, the couple, with the help of the mediator, works out agreements on the above issues. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes. It is the mediators job to keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, reality test the couple, teach empathy and assist the couple in their decision making process. Mediators help keep the couple focused on the issues at hand, trying not to get them off track. When divorcing couples get off track and away from the above issues during mediation, arguing, name-calling and bad prior memories are brought up.
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.
In any case where parties cannot agree about custody or parenting time of the children, the court will require the parties to attend an orientation and education program. Some courts have programs for children to attend. The program covers the impact that divorce and the restructuring of families and legal proceedings have upon children and families. It will also cover methods for preventing parenting time conflicts and options for resolving disputes.
Mediation offers a quite different approach to resolving conflicts between the parties. A neutral third party-the mediator- assists the parties in sorting out their affairs and comes to a mutual agreement in a confidential private format. Mediation is a solid option even for those that are having trouble with communication. It is a cost-effective process and it avoids the legal war of going to court.
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.
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.
Prior to the temporary relief hearing, as indicated above, both parents have custody. One the one hand, it is a disadvantage to agree to a parenting time schedule — even on an interim basis — which is less than what you want on a permanent basis, because even though this is not legally relevant, I have seen judges swayed by arguments about who has had the children prior to the court appearance. On the other hand, children shouldn’t have to witness their parents fighting at the day care center doors about who gets to take them home. Sometimes the best approach is just to share the time 50-50 for the sake of compromise, until the matter is heard by the Court. If for the sake of the children you feel it is best not to fight about it, it is very important to send written notice to your spouse explaining your strong objection to the interim arrangement, e.g.:
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.’”
More recently, however, I have noted a shift to where, in my opinion, the evaluators make assessments of how the case will most likely settle, and tailor their recommendations to that assessment. This results in more settlements overall, but at the cost of many which are not in the best interests of the children. In light of this, it is very important not to give the impression that you are willing to settle for something that is contrary to the children’s best interests. In your pitch to the evaluators, tell them what you consider to be the arrangement that is in the children’s best interests, and why — not just what you would be willing to settle for; because if that’s your approach, that’s very likely what they'll treat as your starting point, and your children will be the ones to suffer for it, by having to live with an arrangement that is not in their best interests.
In some cases, a spouse may be reluctant to attend mediation due to misperceptions they have regarding the mediation process. One party may feel the mediator will decide crucial issues without input. In reality, a divorce mediator cannot compel either spouse to do—or refrain from doing—anything. Others may feel a mediator can single-handedly “fix” all issues in the divorce. If one spouse fails to disclose all relevant facts related to the case, the mediator will be unable to achieve real results. In some cases, women may feel their husband will fare better during the mediation.
They had about $700,000 of equity in their house and she wanted to give him about $100,000 to walk away—much less than the law allows. She was not at all willing to consider his perspective. “What I came to understand was from his perspective, he was an abused husband. And his having an affair—which is not the best way to handle difficulties in your primary relationship—was a desperate act, because now that they were going to have a baby together, he felt that he was trapped in this extremely unhealthy relationship, and this was the only way he could think of to get out. So it was very eye-opening for me.”
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.
The vast majority of divorcing spouses - 97% according to some research - resolve all issues without going to trial. More and more individuals are resolving their issues on their own. Attorneys have recognized this, and many seek to support divorcing spouses in this do-it-yourself process. For example, some divorcing spouses will meet with attorneys separately for a consultation, and then attend mediation on their own. This way, each spouse can be well-informed about their options, but still maintain control (and keep the costs down) as they move forward to resolve any outstanding issues.
Steven Coodin was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada . He received his Bachelor of Arts Advanced Degree from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1996. He later attended law school at Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan and graduated in the fall of 2001. He has been practicing law since he was admitted to the Minnesota State Bar in 2002 and primarily works in the area of criminal defense and family law. Steven prides himself in his work ethic and dedication to his client's cases. Steven formed his own solo attorney...
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.
At Johnson Mediation, we think of ourselves as divorce specialists. It is our job to provide you with the most efficient level of service that ensures we address all of the necessary details surrounding your divorce, which often include a child-focused Parenting Plan in the event that you have kids. While other options may want you to believe a divorce needs to be hard fought, and drawn out, it is our experience that this is often not the case. We are skilled at helping individuals deal with complex emotions that accompany divorce. With our experience and mediation background we feel confident that we can help you cope with these emotional difficulties during and after your divorce is final.
The short answer is “no.” There may be instances in which a Judge requires parties who are represented by an attorney to attend mediation or another ADR process with those attorneys. There are also mediators who will not allow one party to have an attorney present unless the other party also has an attorney present. Generally, however, parties will be able to make this decision on their own, as long as they both agree.
If there is a chance your spouse may seek an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order against you — whether legitimately or fraudulently — it is important to have a plan in case you are suddenly served with one and are barred from your home, with no court hearing set for two weeks. If that happens, do you have a place to stay? Cash and important documents? A spare change of clothing?
Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns. For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account. Either can charge on a joint credit card. There are some exceptions to this general rule. Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse. Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only. Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse. Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.