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.
It also possible, as part of settlement agreements to contractually limit the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, and limit or prevent altogether any future modification of maintenance, though what is known as a "Karon waiver". Benefits of such waivers involve certainty to both parties as to amount and duration of maintenance. Risks also are possible, if a party contracts to a set term and amount of maintenance, and either through illness or job loss, either cannot meet their obligation or may need an extension of their award, as most waivers require the court to give up jurisdiction to make such a change. Importantly, Karon waivers may only be agreed upon by both parties. If there is no such agreement, a court may never order such limitations and waivers of rights to future "modification" of the amount or duration of maintenance.
If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to get assistance from the legal services office in your area. A list of the legal aid offices in Minnesota begins on the next page. You must meet low-income guidelines to be eligible for legal services (legal aid).  You may be referred to a volunteer attorney program by the legal services office.
Julia actually came to my rescue twice. The first time, I was fortunate enough to stumble across her website while looking for divorce mediation. We did not have the time or money for court battles; we just needed someone to insert some sense and sanity into what is already a tricky and painful process. Julia was able to make our divorce process simple and straightforward, and we both felt like we were heard! Four years later, I contacted Julia again to help me with the next intimidating process of amending the divorce agreement. Again, I felt like she did her conscientious best to humanize and streamline the process (and save me money!) with her compassion, quick thinking, and thorough attention to detail. And as a bonus: she answered my panicked emails in a timely and kindly fashion.
4. Use just one (1) attorney. Many people hire law firms to represent them, and end up in situations where more than one attorney is working on their case. This is inefficient, because each attorney involved needs to be independently educated about the case, and no attorney is as well informed as he would be if he were the only attorney on the case. I’ve seen billing statements from other firms with numerous charges for a “strategy conference” between attorneys in the same firm. I’ve seen billings for two attorneys from the same firm attending the same deposition. Obviously these duplicative charges don’t happen when you use a single attorney for your case.
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This shortsighted approach overlooks many things, the first of which is the obvious waste of money. It’s important to ask yourself if the asset is really worth the fight. Divorce leaves most people with fewer assets than they had during marriage – why spend what you have left on attorney’s fees? It also overlooks the possibility that with more property on hand, the other spouse will be able to contribute to college costs and other child-related expenses. Finally, property allocated to your spouse may also reduce the need for alimony.
If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement.  This is called negotiation.  If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys.  The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court.  Just one party needs go to court.  The other party usually does not attend.  The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties.  A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing.  This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.
For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them.  This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value.  If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation.  Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same.  Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.

Eric graduated magna cum laude from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN in 1990. In 1994 he received a Doctorate of Law (JD) degree from the University of Minnesota. Following that, he spent the next two years as a judicial clerk for the distinguished Honorable Lois J. Lang, Judge of District Court, with a workload that primarily involved the drafting of divorce decrees, orders, and legal memoranda on a host of issues pertaining to divorce, child custody, child support, visitation, spousal maintenance, distribution of marital and non-marital property, valuation of property, domestic abuse and harassment, and the like....

Mediation is a forum in which a neutral mediator facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, understanding, and settlement. Mediation is particularly suited to divorces and other family law proceedings because there is likely to be a continuing relationship between the parties, especially if minor children are involved. Many divorcing couples find mediation allows them to avoid the high financial and emotional costs of a litigated divorce. Because settlement is generally quicker, costs are reduced.

Some find it helpful to make a list of marital events, in the order they occurred, as well as a list of the current disputes and another list of the outcomes you would like to see. Whether you put it on paper or not, have a list in your head of which issues are most important to you and which are the least important. Being prepared and on time is key to the success of the divorce mediation. You must also be prepared to talk to your spouse. If you have had trouble communicating in the past, your mediator will be there to facilitate communication. While it is important that you set goals regarding what it will take to resolve the case or the individual disputes, it is equally important you remain flexible. You may be surprised at some of the things you find out during mediation which change your perception of the entire issue.
Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served for 6 years on the Mi ... more

Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.


If you own your home or other land, this property must also be divided fairly.  The court may order the property sold so that each of you will have your share as soon as possible.  The court might award one spouse the home and give the other spouse other property, such as retirement accounts, that equal the equity in the home.  If the court believes that it would be better for the minor children to remain in the home, it may permit the children and the custodial parent to remain in the home until the children are 18 years old.  Then the proceeds from the sale of the home will be split. 
Another common complaint is that the system is too soft on child support obligors. Truth be told, there are some self-employed parents that are doing well financially, but whose "inaccurate" tax returns show little income after they’ve written off business expenses (e.g., cars, travel and entertainment). Sometimes, these parents are able to fool the system and pay a lower amount of support.
If you can afford an attorney, but don't know any, ask a friend who was satisfied with his or her attorney.  You can also look in the yellow pages under "Attorneys."  You can contact the local bar association's attorney referral service listed below.  The Lawyer Referral Service can give you the name and telephone number of an attorney in private practice in your area who may be able to represent you.  You may have to pay an initial fee for the first appointment with the attorney.  You may be able to negotiate how much you will pay the attorney for representation in a divorce. Many attorneys will ask for payment of some money before the divorce is begun. This is called a retainer.
Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.

To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
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:
Like attorneys, most mediators charge by the hour. The average total cost of divorce mediation (with me) is approximately $2,000. In addition to the mediator’s fees you will need to pay a filing fee to your county of approximately $400 and if you choose to hire a professional for legal drafting, you should also expect an additional $1,250-1,500. On average, my clients incur a total combined cost of approximately $4,000.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.
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