How Does A “4-Way Meeting” Work in A Massachusetts Divorce?

You’re facing divorce, which can be difficult. Your life may be undergoing some significant changes. There will likely be changes to your living arrangement, your finances, and if you have children, the time you spend with them. Learning about the different steps in divorce and how they work can make it much easier to navigate.

In Massachusetts, parties and the attorneys on a contested divorce are obligated to participate in what’s known in the industry as a “4-Way Meeting” before they can take advantage of an important court hearing known as the “Pretrial Conference.” It’s called a “4-Way” because there are usually 4 people involved: both attorneys and both parties.

The purpose of the 4-Way Meeting is to provide the parties and attorneys an opportunity to discuss the issues in the case and make an effort to move toward resolution.

First let’s clarify when a 4-Way Meeting is NOT required. If the parties have a full agreement before the pretrial hearing, a meeting is not necessary. That is, if the parties have an agreement on all of the issues and have signed a divorce agreement, the court will generally approve the agreement and the case will end, even if the parties haven’t formally met.

However, if there are any issues on which the parties do not agree and they need feedback from the judge at the pretrial hearing, the judge may refuse to conduct the hearing if the parties and attorneys have not first participated in a 4-way meeting.

Think of it this way: there are a lot of cases in the court system. The meeting requirement is designed to avoid wasting the court’s time hashing out issues that could’ve been resolved had the parties just sat down and discussed them and made an effort to resolve them.

When exactly does this meeting have to happen?

Whenever there’s a contested divorce case filed by a party, the process generally goes as follows: After the filing, the party who filed gets a summons and complaint that need to be served on the other party. After the appropriate service paperwork is filed with the court, there may be a case management conference, which is designed to ensure the parties agree on deadlines for exchanging information and documents. Next, the court will schedule the pretrial conference, which is usually a few months out.

The pretrial conference is a significant event. It’s comparable to a mini trial, where the attorneys submit documents outlining and make arguments on the important issues in the case.

In the period of time before the pretrial conference, the parties are expected to exchange information and work toward resolution. That’s where the 4-Way Meeting comes in. The 4-Way Meeting MUST happen before the pretrial conference.

What if you and your spouse aren’t on speaking terms or there’s a restraining order?

In that case, the involved attorneys can work out an arrangement to ensure the parties are safe and that the meeting is productive. For example, the parties can remain in separate rooms while the attorneys go back and forth to discuss key issues and negotiate.

How does the meeting actually work?

At the 4-Way Meeting, the parties and attorney typically will have exchanged some information, and perhaps financial statements in advance. At the meeting, the attorneys and parties usually discuss the key issues to determine what they can agree on and what’s contested and why. At the end of the meeting, the attorneys typically discuss a plan for exchanging any further information or documents and how the parties will address any contested issues.

The 4-Way Meeting is an important part of the divorce process. If you try to skip it, it may cause delays in your case because the judge may refuse to hear you until the meeting has happened.

If you have any questions about the 4-Way Meeting or divorce in general, feel free to contact us.

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