Divorce Mediation Process and Timeline in Massachusetts

When you’re facing divorce, you want it to go as smoothly as possible. But especially when there’s a lot on the line, it’s inevitable that you and your spouse won’t see eye to eye on certain issues. For people that need to work through divorce issues but want to minimize the risk that divorce will require expensive and time-consuming litigation, mediation is worth exploring.

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that involves the parties meeting with a mediator in an attempt to resolve their divorce issues. The mediator is usually an attorney with divorce experience who acts as a neutral third party to objectively analyze the facts and make recommendations. The mediator’s goal is to guide the parties toward resolution.

Mediation is appealing because if it works, it generally results in the divorce being resolved efficiently – it’s finalized relatively quickly and the parties don’t have to spend a lot of money on legal fees.

Most mediators are available for an appointment a couple of weeks to a month out,. The busier ones may have to schedule the appointment(s) farther out. The number of sessions required to complete mediation depends on the complexity of the case, and the number and type of contested issues.

The mediator may suggest that the parties exchange certain documents to verify their income and assets: paystubs, bank statements, credit card statements, etc.

Once the parties agree on all issues, they can typically get into court to finalize the divorce within a couple of months, depending on how long it takes the attorneys and parties to draft, sign, and file all necessary documents.

The total cost of mediation depends on the type and number of issues to be resolved in addition to the rates charged by the mediator. More experienced and higher-skilled mediators may cost more, but may be worth the extra money if the case is complex. A deposit is typically required—how much depends on the extent of the work and anticipated overall costs.

Mediation can be started at any stage—before or after a divorce filing.

If the parties feel they’ll be able to resolve the issues with guidance from a mediator, they can schedule to meet with a mediator before filing. Then once an agreement is reached, the attorneys or parties can draft the necessary uncontested divorce documents for filing. Some mediators also offer to draft documents in addition to providing the mediation service.

Mediation can also be done after a contested filing. The process for mediation after filing is the same as pre-filing. If after the filing the parties want to attempt to resolve the case with mediation, they can schedule it. And once they reach an agreement, the appropriate documents can be drafted and filed in the case. Contested divorces turn into uncontested divorces once an agreement is reached.

Although mediation is generally effective, it’s not binding. The mediator doesn’t have the power to make a ruling or order the parties to do anything they don’t want to do. Although the hope is that that mediator will provide useful feedback to move the parties toward an agreement, the parties still each have to reach an agreement on resolution of all issues. If either party doesn’t agree to all terms, the parties are left with the choice of continuing to negotiate and/or proceeding in court on a contested basis.

In some circumstances, mediation is not a good fit. If there’s a likelihood that one of the parties will be unwilling to compromise, mediation can be a waste of time, money, and effort. Also, if there’s an issue that requires immediate attention, a court filing may be a better option, as it would result in a binding order from a judge. Although mediators should work toward a fair agreement for both sides, they don’t represent the interest of either party. The mediator is not looking out for you or your interests. Therefore, the more there is at stake, such as assets, potential alimony, and child-related issues including support, the more sense it makes to be guided by a quality divorce lawyer—even for mediation. Going into a mediation without a firm grasp on what a fair outcome is and what you should be asking for can significantly hurt your chances of a favorable outcome. You should consider at least getting an assessment from a trusted attorney so you can prepare and execute an optimal game plan for mediation if that’s the route you choose. If you have any questions about mediation or divorce generally, feel free to contact us.

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