Lynda’s Massachusetts divorce and family law practice is limited to non-court options such as Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Divorce. Lynda also serves as a consulting attorney for clients working with other mediators. Mediation and Collaborative Practice are also excellent choices for resolving non-divorce issues such as pre-nuptial and post-marital agreements, changes in support and parenting plans or addressing questions not fully resolved at the time of divorce such as college expenses for the children. The processes can also be used to help in other types of family disputes such as between parents and children or brothers and sisters.
Divorce Mediation is a dispute resolution process where the parties work with neutral facilitators, usually attorneys or mental health professionals, to address all the details of their divorce. The neutral mediator cannot advise parties but, they can give them legal information and assist them in finding the best solutions for their situations. The parties meet with the mediator and, often, consult with attorneys and other experts outside of the mediation process, bringing the information back to the “table” for discussion. Mediation provides a setting, with expert guidance, that allows those who know the situation best (you) to determine the outcome.
In Collaborative Law, the parties each have their own attorney and, usually, other team members such as coach/facilitators, financial professionals and, if appropriate, child specialists, to assist them in the negotiations. By combining resources and taking away, in writing, the threat to go to Court if negotiations do not go as expected, the parties have more flexibility and creativity to fashion solutions that work for their situation. The Collaborative Team, including clients, meets together to work through the process. Collaborative Law is often more expensive than mediation but, usually, less expensive and more efficient than litigation. The use of the expert team members assures the parties that they have the best resources to address their problems.
Most people think of litigation when they think about resolving legal issues. The Judge has the ultimate authority to decide the details of a divorce. Those details include parenting plans, support (child support and alimony, if any), property division, allocation of debts and other joint responsibilities, health insurance and related expenses, etc. Most divorce litigation cases do settle before the trial but, usually only after expensive Court appearances and preparation, contentious negotiations and escalating costs. In some cases, it is impossible to avoid this process and this might be the best solution but, most divorcing couples do have other options.
Topics to address in Divorce and Family Law Disputes
Child support—Both parties have an obligation to contribute to the support of their children until they are emancipated. Emancipation can be as late as age 23 depending on the child’s circumstances. Judges determine child support using state Child Support Guidelines. In Mediation and Collaborative Practice, parties can be creative in fashioning a support arrangement that meets the needs of the children as long as the overall benefit to the children is no less than the Child Support Guidelines mandate.
Alimony (spousal support)–As of 2012, Massachusetts alimony law has been significantly changed. The duration of alimony, if any, circumstances under which it can be ordered by the Court, types of alimony, determinations of need and ability to pay are all examples of the questions that must be addressed regarding alimony. Interpretation of the new law is evolving and the guidance of an experienced professional is important.
Divorce and Property Division
Divorce law in Massachusetts is influenced by the facts of each situation.
Massachusetts law requires an “equitable” division of all marital property. “Equitable” is not always equal. Most divorces are now based on an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, commonly referred to as “no fault divorce.” The emphasis is on coming to an agreement that both parties believe is best under their circumstances. Not all property is the same. There can be tax consequences related to some assets that need to be adjusted. Some assets like retirement funds require specialized and technical expertise to value or to divide with minimum tax consequences. And some assets might be treated differently because of their source, for example, gifts or inheritances. It is important to speak with a legal professional to understand the distinctions.
If there are children, their best interest is paramount. Parenting plans addressing child custody help all those involved know who is responsible for the children and when. Parenting plans establish the structure of what some people call custody and visitation. They spell out how decisions are made on behalf of the children. Child support and other financial arrangements affecting the children are also important to negotiate.
Do you have questions about support, parenting or property division? Lynda can help. Divorce law also includes modifications when things change. Contact us to find out what those changes mean to you.
For more information, see our Divorce Resources in the right sidebar or contact Lynda Robbins for a consultation.