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.
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children.  However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
In the mediation process, your mediator will provide you with much of the information and legal background that you need to discuss your issues. At times though, because the mediator must remain neutral, they cannot give either party advice specific to their best interests because that would be against the interests of the other party. Here, a consulting attorney, that is accessed on a limited, as-needed basis, can provide that specific legal advice to help a party decide how to best move forward in the negotiations.
3. Even if we don’t settle the case, it’s great preparation and knowledge for purposes of going into court. Even though it’s confidential, and therefore an offer the other party made cannot be used in court against them, if you discuss the case in mediation and reach an impass, it does give us a better idea how best to present the dispute to the court.
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.
In a very limited number of divorce mediations, one spouse feels the mediator favors the other spouse. In such a case resolution is unlikely to occur. If a spouse is concealing issues during mediation, the mediator cannot compel him or her to reveal such things as accurate assets or income. In contrast, an attorney can depose the spouse, require financial information or even counsel the client to hire a forensic accountant. Divorce mediators don’t have the authority a judge has, meaning the success of the mediation is wholly dependent on the cooperation between the parties.
The court may appoint a “guardian ad litem” if it believes one party has hurt the child or that having someone to represent what's best for the child would be helpful. A guardian ad litem advises the court about custody, parenting time and support during the case. A guardian ad litem is different from other kinds of guardians. The guardian ad litem does not have custody. A guardian ad litem makes an independent investigation about what's best for the child and writes a report for the court. The parties may be asked to pay the costs of a guardian ad litem.
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.
Ms. Kugler practices exclusively in the area of family law. Karen works toward equitable settlements, but is skilled in trial advocacy. Karen discusses the risks and expense of litigation with her clients. She is a knowledgeable, empathetic, and assertive legal advocate and handles all family law issues: spousal maintenance, child support, property division, and custody at the trial and appellate levels. Karen is past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Family Law Section and is a past Co-Chair of the RCBA Family Law Section. She is a frequent writer and speaker regarding family law, co-authoring the Child Support...
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in Family Court Cases - For parents who are getting divorced, this statewide program connects them with judges and evaluators early in the court process to give them an opportunity to settle their legal issues. Parties can choose to participate in one or both types of ENE: a Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes; and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.