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.
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 many other couples in your situation have come up with.
I am also active in helping you to understand financial issues in divorce. My website has the top-ranked MA child support calculator, the most user-friendly MA alimony calculator, a first-page MTRS pension calculator, and one of the top ranked pages on division of marital assets in Massachusetts. I prepare QDROs (“Qualified Domestic Relations Orders”) for division of retirement accounts in divorce, and I can generate present values of pensions within hours, rather than the weeks required by other mediators. This expertise in the financial aspects of divorce differentiates me from the majority of mediators, attorney mediators, and divorce lawyers in MA.
When you contact me, I ask you a number of questions to see if your case is ready to start divorce mediation. If you have already agreed with your spouse on mediation, we set up an appointment, typically within a week to 10 days, for our first session. 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 give you a list (see below) of financial documents and financial numbers to bring to the first meeting. If you have children under 18, I also give you information about where to sign up for a “Parent Education Program,” which is a 2-evening, 5-hour class that the State of Massachusetts requires for divorcing parents.
The first mediation session usually lasts 2 to 3 hours. During this time, we complete your Financial Statements, which list your income, expenses, assets, and debts. These Financial Statements are court-required documents. They provide the information needed for dividing assets and debts and for calculating child support and alimony, if applicable. We then start addressing 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. In other cases, we need to meet more than once. If you have assets such as a house, pensions, or a business, we sometimes seek professional appraisals of their value after the first meeting. If you have pensions or businesses, this tends to increase the length of time and the costs of the mediation, as valuing these takes time and increases the complexity of the separation agreement. 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.
After you have agreed on initial terms of the divorce, I write the terms into a draft of a Separation Agreement (the name for the divorce agreement in MA) and generate all divorce forms required by the courts, typically within a week to 10 days of receiving all relevant information. I share the draft of the Separation Agreement and forms with you by mail or email so you can review them. Spouses are more than welcome to hire outside attorneys to review the Separation Agreement if they like.
We then have a second and final meeting of about two hours to go over the separation agreement to make sure that you understand and agree on all terms. I am a notary public, so you can sign the forms in front of me at the end of this meeting, and I can notarize them. This allows you to go directly to court to file the documents, if you like.
I explain how to file the forms (and the $215 court-required filing fee) at the appropriate probate (family law) court. The court will then send you a letter with a court date that is typically 2-6 weeks after the date that you filed the forms. On your court date, you and your spouse will attend a 15-minute hearing with a family law judge who 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.
Financial documents and information to bring to the first meeting (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 just over $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 $5000.
Divorce mediation is the fastest way to reach a separation agreement. The separation agreement is typically completed within 2 weeks of the initial mediation session, and Julia has completed some as soon as the next day after the initial meeting. The only court appearance occurs about 3 weeks 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