In divorce mediation, I serve as a neutral facilitator who helps you and your spouse discuss and come to agreement on a range of issues. While decisions regarding parenting schedules, housing, assets, and finances can feel overwhelming to you, I am experienced in helping you to address these issues step-by-step in ways that allow you to come to agreement. Our common goal is to create an agreement that works for both of you as well as other family members affected by the divorce. I mediate divorces for ALL Massachusetts courts and counties via Zoom.
As an expert in divorce law, I guide your discussion so that your decisions can be included in a formal Massachusetts divorce separation agreement, but all decisions are ultimately yours. This process gives you practice in discussion and decision-making that prepare you to work together, e.g., as parents, after divorce. As an attorney mediator, I prepare the legal papers reflecting your decisions so that a Massachusetts probate court judge can approve the agreement and issue the divorce decree.
In terms of mediation style, I am an active mediator. I will share with you my knowledge of Massachusetts family law, and I will share with you the solutions that I have seen work for many other couples in your situation. When you feel locked in disagreement and stuck, I will suggest ways forward.
I am also active in helping you to understand financial issues in divorce. If you search online for terms such as “MA child support calculator”, “division of marital property in MA divorce”, “MA alimony calculator”, or “dividing MA state pensions in divorce”, you will see this website near the top of all searches. I prepare QDROs (“Qualified Domestic Relations Orders”) for division of retirement accounts in divorce, and I can often generate present values of pensions during our first meeting, for free, rather than having you pay an accountant hundreds of dollars and waiting for weeks. This comfort with numbers and the financial aspects of divorce differentiates me from the majority of mediators, attorney mediators, and divorce lawyers in MA.
When you contact me, my assistant or I will ask you a few questions about your situation, describe the mediation process, and try to answer any questions you might have. I will then email you further information about moving forward with the process, which you can share with your spouse. The email will also contain a link to my appointment calendar, where you and your spouse can pick a time that works for you. Sometimes my assistant or I talk on the telephone to your spouse, in addition to you, before our first session so that both of you are on the same page in terms of the process and neither of you feels as if one spouse has a closer relationship to me. As a mediator, I am neutral, helping you with the process and not favoring either one of you as we address the practical terms of the separation agreement.
Before our first meeting, I will send you an online link to a pre-meeting questionnaire. This questionnaire gathers names, dates, addresses, and information about employment, health insurance, income, assets, debts, and expenses. I put all of this information into required court forms. I will also send you an invoice that you can pay online with a credit card before the first meeting.
The first mediation session usually lasts 2 to 3 hours. During this time, we complete your court-required Financial Statements, which list your income, expenses, assets, and debts. We then discuss ways of dividing assets and debts and calculating child support and alimony, if applicable. We address the issues that are common to many divorce cases (division of property, health insurance, taxes, parenting plan, etc.) as well as any particular concerns you have. We will tackle these one-by-one, customizing the agreement to fit your needs.
In many cases, we come to basic agreement on all issues during this initial session, and I email you a draft of all court documents and the separation agreement within 2-3 days. In other cases, we need to meet more than once. If you have a business, we sometimes seek professional appraisals of the value of the business after the first meeting. Other factors that can increase the length (and, often, cost) of mediation include high assets (e.g., over $1,000,000), significant inheritances from relatives, and cases in which one spouse or the other wants more time before proceeding with the next steps toward dissolution of the marriage. Spouses are more than welcome to hire outside attorneys to review the initial draft of the Separation Agreement if they like.
When you are ready, we then have a second and (often) final meeting of about 1 to 1.5 hours to go over the separation agreement to make sure that you understand and agree on all terms. I then mail you all forms with stickies indicating where to sign and indicating any signatures that must be done in front of a notary.
I include an envelope addressed to the court and instructions for sending forms, marriage certificate, and the $215 court-required filing fee. The court will then send you a letter with a court date that might be about 2 months (during Covid) after the date that you filed the forms. On your court date, you and your spouse will attend a 15-minute (or less) hearing with a family law judge by Zoom or telephone. The judge will confirm that you understand the terms of your agreement and then grant your divorce. The divorce judgment becomes “absolute”–it can’t be challenged by either party or rescinded by joint motion–120 days after the hearing.
Call divorce attorney mediator Julia now at 413-253-7484, and she can discuss your case with you and explain how mediation can save you time, money, and stress compared to other divorce processes.
To fill out in the online, pre-meeting questionnaire, you should be prepared to have the following available (download printable list):
It works! Separation agreements developed through mediation help couples achieve closure on their marriage and move forward. Such divorce agreements directly address the issues couples care about most, whether the exact details of the parenting schedule, decisions about whether one party stays in the marital house or the house is sold, or a customized weighting of alimony, child support, and division of assets. Mediated divorce agreements are much less likely to result in future legal actions than agreements written by combative lawyers or decreed by a judge, i.e., by people who don’t know you or your specific concerns.
Divorce mediation is much less expensive than representation by divorce lawyers and litigation (fighting) through court orders and actions. Mediation costs typically range from $1000 to no more than $4000, and these total costs are shared by both parties. Divorces battled in court typically cost over $10,000 per person, and most litigation lawyers will not even take you as an individual client until they receive an initial retainer (deposit) of $3000 to $5000 or more.
Divorce mediation is the fastest way to reach a separation agreement. You will get a draft of the separation agreement within a few days of your first meeting, and the separation agreement is usually finalized at the second meeting, typically within a few weeks of the initial mediation session. The only court appearance occurs about 2 months (faster when the Covid backlog clears) after you submit your divorce papers on a date scheduled by the probate court. Litigated divorces, in contrast, involve multiple family court appearances and long delays as information is gathered through the process of legal discovery and motions are scheduled and rescheduled. Such court battles often drag on for years before they are settled.
Divorce mediation is much less stressful and harmful to interpersonal relations. Divorce is a time of emotional vulnerability, and litigation creates new wounds. The traditional divorce process, for example, starts with serving divorce papers. This means that a person you don’t know, often a sheriff, confronts you in your home in front of your children or at work in front of your colleagues, and announces the legal action, as if you were a criminal. In litigated cases, couples are often discouraged from communicating with each other directly, making it impossible to find common ground and come up with creative, collaborative solutions that serve both parties. Mediation, in contrast, enables parties to put their best foot forward and cooperate in a way that can help them put many of the frustrations of the past behind them. It is a way of closing the door of the marriage gently rather than slamming it shut.
Divorce mediation is much better for children. The high costs, protracted process, emotional stress, and high failure rate of litigation are all bad for families. A skilled divorce mediator, in contrast, helps couples to see how they can communicate effectively about the practical issues of post-divorce parenting by guiding their conversations during mediation, helping them to focus on the future and the well being of their children. Long after separation and divorce, parents need to continue making joint decisions about their children. There is no better training for this on-going work than cooperatively constructing a separation agreement with an expert in interpersonal communication and family law who can defuse conflict and guide you to a mutually satisfactory separation agreement.
Call divorce mediator Julia Rueschemeyer with any questions you have about family law or divorce mediation: 413-253-7484