How I Stay Informed about Collaborative Practice and Mediation Best Practices

Those involved in the fields of Mediation and Collaborative Practice (CP) must continually digest and apply recent changes in the law. The professional(s) must also keep their interpersonal skills sharp, since success is largely determined by their ability to navigate potential or present conflict as they assist a couple in reaching a divorce settlement.

For these reasons, I make sure to regularly attend industry conferences and educational programs, both to network with like-minded colleagues and also to learn more about current Mediation and CP issues and how to best handle them. Read More >>

When Couples in Business Together Divorce

Couples who are in business together have unique challenges when it comes to negotiating the terms of their divorce. Not only must they decide how to split personal assets and liabilities, but they must also figure out what to do with the business.

Use divorce Mediation or Collaborative Practice (CP) rather than costly litigation.

Hiring a divorce Mediator or Collaborative Practitioner to help work out business dealings will ensure that both spouses have more of a say in the matter than if a Judge were solely to decide the outcome.

The advantage of the Mediation or CP process is that it provides resources to help both spouses get on the same page. A financial advisor working in either process will have a neutral perspective when informing both parties of all financial aspects that must be considered and should be privy to all relevant information needed to help the parties make informed decisions. Read More >>

How to Choose a Collaborative Practitioner

When a couple first starts down the path to divorce, the decisions that need to be made can be overwhelming. At the very beginning, they must decide whether to use Mediation, Collaborative Practice (CP), or litigation. This likely involves first getting educated on how each process works.

Even after deciding which method to use, the couple must still choose a professional with whom they feel comfortable working. If CP is the chosen process, a few professionals must be chosen for their team, including individual attorneys to represent each of them, a neutral coach/facilitator, and financial advisors.  Typically the attorneys help the parties to choose the coach and financial professionals, although the parties might start with any of the professional team members.

For the purposes of this article, I will focus on how to choose a collaborative attorney. Read More >>

How to Choose a Divorce Mediator

Unlike some other states, Mediation is not regulated in any way by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Organizations such as the Massachusetts Council of Family and Mediation (MCFM) do provide recommended guidelines and specialized training, but MCFM membership is not compulsory for practicing Mediators, nor are MCFM recommendations legally enforceable.

Most Mediators are attorneys, financial advisors, or mental health professionals – but not always. In the absence of Mediation regulations, here are some important steps you should take before hiring a divorce Mediator to help in navigating your divorce settlement.

Take a Look at the Divorce Mediator’s Professional Background.

Anyone who believes s/he has “good people skills” could legitimately hang out a shingle as a Mediator in Massachusetts. That is because training, while important, is not required. You will find (as with any profession) that not all Mediators are equal in terms of training, knowledge, and the real-life experience that only comes from working in the trenches. Do your due diligence to find out what other qualifications besides mediating skills an individual has. Simply “being good with people” is not enough to ensure that you will be in good hands or be led down the right path. S/he may help you and your spouse to agree to something only for you to find that it is not legally sound. Read More >>

Can I Switch Over to Divorce Mediation if I Have Already Started Litigation?

divorce mediation

While it can be challenging to get off the path of divorce litigation once you have started down that road, it is not impossible. The two resolution methods are not mutually exclusive.

As a matter of fact, at any point in time during litigation, a divorcing couple who begins to feel that this is not the right fit for them can switch over to Mediation. Of course, both spouses must be in agreement for this to happen. If you find yourself desiring a change but are unsure whether your spouse feels the same way, it is worth having that discussion to find out if you are on the same page.

Divorce Litigation “Cons”

Divorcees who initially file with the Court can, over time, become frustrated by the lack of progress. Things may not be moving along as quickly as they like. They may feel that too much time is being wasted, leading to unnecessarily higher attorney fees. They may also not be pleased with how their family is being affected by the process. These are all very real concerns and, unfortunately, often unavoidable negative aspects of the litigation route. Read More >>

Do-It-Yourself Divorce Can Be a Costly Error

One of life’s unpleasant truths is that divorce costs money at a time when household funds are already stretched to their breaking point. Some couples try to find a way around this by forgoing professionals altogether and instead drawing up their own divorce papers prior to going before a Judge for approval.

Similar to doing your own taxes or selling your own house, sometimes this can work – especially in cases where a couple is newly married, has no kids or joint real estate yet, and has kept separate bank accounts. More often than not, however, this is not a good idea – especially if you have a complicated situation.

Here are some compelling reasons why DIY divorce often brings more trouble than benefit:

No One-Size-Fits-All Package

Often couples who try to piece together their own divorce agreement get papers from well-meaning friends or relatives who have previously been through a divorce. They then change the names and fill in the blanks to apply to their own situation.

The problem? Attorneys putting together professionally divorce agreements have taken into account the unique circumstances of the couple involved. Making a carbon copy of someone else’s final result and applying it to your own scenario will usually not make sense.

No Guarantee of Validity

Other times, couples order an inexpensive DIY divorce kit online and then plug in their own names and identifying information.

The problem? There is no guarantee that the Courts will find this type of paperwork valid. You may have just stumbled upon a website where scam artists take your money and in return, give you a generic printout.

If you try bring this type of document to the Court clerk, she might hand it right back to you, informing you that you have not addressed everything needed. You then have to leave the Court, perhaps after taking a day off from work, and start the process again later.

Many couples have come to me for Mediation after having been sent away from the Court. By this point they are often embarrassed or frustrated, which creates more tension between the parties at a time when it is already running high.

Stock forms like these also fail to address the inherent complexities resulting from divorce, such as work benefits, stock options, tax considerations, or the need for a parenting plan. They do not allow for any creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Absence of a Big-Picture Perspective

Short-term thinking often dominates those working through a divorce. They are simply trying to navigate their way out of a difficult or dead-end relationship as quickly as possible. As a result, they often fail to consider possible future scenarios that might occur, such as eventual remarriage or a child reaching college age. Since they are not trained to understand the full scope of the law when it comes to matters such as divorce, alimony, or child support, they are not aware of the consequences of their actions. A Judge may approve their divorce agreement and make it legally binding without being aware that the couple has absolutely no understanding of the legal ramifications of what they just signed.

Through the years, many people have called to explain a problem that has come up and then asked me what they should do. After reviewing their divorce agreement, I unfortunately often have to tell them I cannot help them. Unless they are looking for relief in an area where a Court-ordered modification could legally take place, they are stuck, because they already agreed in writing to that particular arrangement. I sometimes have to explain, for example, that getting remarried does not mean they can cut child support, since one’s first family is always considered the priority in the eyes of the law.

A Workable Solution

For those who want to save as much money as possible but still be prudent in their divorce proceedings, Mediation is a viable alternative.

A Mediator takes the time to educate people about every step of the divorce process, explaining legal nuances and making wise suggestions based on what has been effective in previous cases.

If you want to keep costs down but still work with a divorce professional to ensure you are covering all your bases, it is best to include a call to a Mediator.

After Divorce, Follow Through in Changing Beneficiaries

Divorce brings about so many life-changing adjustments that it can be easy to overlook certain follow-up details that should be addressed as soon as possible. One such item is changing the beneficiaries on important documents such as employment benefits, life insurance policies, IRAs, and other retirement accounts, as well as redoing your will.

This tends to be one of those things that people intend to get to soon, but so often it gets put off. Unfortunately, once a person is dead, it is too late. A beneficiary cannot be changed from the grave.

Many divorce agreements specify who the beneficiaries are to be for a specific period of time. Once the agreement becomes a judgment, it must be followed. If the Court’s ruling does not specify who you must name as a beneficiary, you have some discretion, but you still must take care of choosing your beneficiary in a timely manner.

The two scenarios below were actual cases I had that illustrate what can happen if this important matter is not addressed. Read More >>