Using “Collaborative Mediation” ™
Divorce Mediation stands in strong contrast to the traditional divorce process in which each member of a couple hires a divorce attorney to litigate or negotiate for him or her the terms of the Separation/Divorce Agreement.
Divorce Mediation saves time and cost and prevents conflict for all members of the family.
- Living arrangements, and talking with children according to age and developmental stage
- Division/buy-out/sale of real estate and marital property
- Child support using the 9/15/2017 Mass. Child Support Guidelines
- Equitable division of child expenses and educational costs
- Secure coverage for medical/dental/life insurance expenses
- Learning your current and future cash flow after taxes and expenses
- Repayment of marital and individual debt
- Minimizing tax and divorce costs
The Collaborative Mediation Process Builds Trust
Mediation clients here have the advantage of learning our own Collaborative Mediation process that builds trust and long-term negotiation skills. They will frequently work with our Certified Divorce and Financial Analyst to learn what their current net disposable monthly income is after payment of expenses and all taxes, including any family support, as well as deducting their real estate taxes, mortgage interest, personal and head of household exemptions on their Federal and State Income Taxes.
As clients move into their 50s and 60s, future cash flow including pension, retirement incomes, Social Security, investments, cash, dividends and interest are calculated so that, if desired, clients can know their cash flow even into their 90th decade!
All marital assets acquired since the beginning of the marriage, all real estate, vehicles, cash, investments, retirement plans, other employer plans, and household goods will be equitably divided.
Parenting plans are custom designed with flexibility and comfort in mind for both children and parents. Where there is a will to frequent access to one another, there is a way. Parents can see their children every day of the week if indicated, especially at the beginning of the restructuring of the family.
Our clients present the judge with a court-ready Mediated Separation Agreement, after a review attorney for one or each of them reviews the document.
Please review the Equitable Property Division Statute of Massachusetts
A quick Questionnaire to assist with the mediation process
Please review the Act to Reform and Improve Alimony
Please review the Massachusetts Family Court Financial Statement
Please review the Massachusetts Family Court Financial Statement
Please review the Massachusetts Family Court Self Employment Financial Statement
Please review the Massachusetts Rent Income Financial Statement
Please review the 2018 Child Support Guidelines
Please review the Child Support Calculator
Finally a checklist to assist you with getting your ducks in a row.
Janet Miller Wiseman, principal and owner, who works with several Certified Divorce and Financial Analysts, is an original co-founder of The Negotiation Collaborative in 1979 and the co-founder of the Mass Council on Family Mediation in 1982, an organization which provides high-level, bi-monthly continuing education to its members. Janet is a two-year past President of MCFM, the designee of the John Adams Fiske Award for Excellence in Mediation in 1982, and the original Director of Public Relations. Janet has thirty-nine years of experience in suggesting and co-crafting cost-effective, thoroughly researched, genuinely creative alternatives for settlement, not simply legalistic formulas.
Divorce Mediation FAQ
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process which is respectful, inexpensive and beneficial in cost, time and relationship savings. It results in a Divorce Agreement which includes a parenting plan with all details about living arrangements for children, all financial arrangements for children and parents, all division of marital property and details concerning medical, life insurance, asset and liability allocation and tax considerations.
Can Mediation be successful if the couple has already retained lawyers and are involved in the court process?
Yes, definitely. Individual counsel from advocacy attorneys is helpful. Better yet, having first-hand experience, even, with an adversarial mindset and approach may be just the experience a couple needs, to know for sure that using a collaborative mediation approach is more congenial with their values and long-term needs.
What if your believe your partner is or will no reveal income or assets from the marriage or partnership?
The mediation financial questionnaire accomplishes “informal discovery”, a signed listing of ALL income and assets of a marriage with backup documentation and is signed under the “penalties of perjury”. If joint agreements are made by the couple on the basis of incomplete or erroneous information, fraud is being committed, with it’s penalties, and what would otherwise be a final division can be subject to court review. Mediation participants must believe and sign-off that they trust that all income and assets from the marriage have voluntarily been revealed and that in their decision-making about child support, alimony and division of property they have been fully financially informed.
What techniques does the negotiation collaborative use to address power/knowledge imbalances between a couple?
One of the most frequently encountered imbalances is when one of the parties has more knowledge of finances, tax ramifications, methods of valuation of assets, businesses, pensions. By referring the other spouse to experts in one or more of those areas, a “knowledge imbalance” may begin to be redressed. The advisory attorney, during mediation, may be a forceful advocate for and coach of a party whose power and knowledge need augmenting.
Does the cost of advisory/review attorneys increase the cost of mediation dramatically?
Review/advisory attorneys advocate for your understanding and achieving all the information you need, especially information about alimony and inheritance, and your individual review attorney ensures that the final divorce agreement reflects your own, as well as the families’ interests. Your review attorney will sign your pink 401 financial statement, and mark you up for a hearing date in court. We believe that the review/advisory attorney’s costs will not be dramatic and should be planned for as a systematic part of a thorough checks and balances mediation process.
Can a mediator go to court for the divorce hearing?
No. The parties, with the assistance of their advisory attorney, get “marked up” for a hearing date with a judge and then may go to court with attorney(s) or go by themselves, representing themselves “pro se” and signing their own Pink 401 financial statements.
Couples use the June. 15, 2018, Mass Child Support Guidelines in determining support for their children. It is assumed that both parents will contribute their earnings and that the guidelines are “presumptive”. That is, they will pertain to your situation unless:
- you have children who have special needs or aptitudes
- you have unusually low or high housing costs
- the children live with each of you approximately equal time
- you have joint incomes in excess of the guidelines
Couples decide when they reevaluate the Child Support Guidelines, perhaps every year, if their incomes or medical/dental insurance has changed. If a parent is not working or working full-time, and the children are old enough, s(he) may decide to do so to increase the total family income. Parents frequently decide that it is better, especially for young children to be guided by their parents and not nannies or babysitters.
The Alimony Reform Act of 2012 has provided couples, mediators, lawyers and judges with much needed guidance in determining spousal support/alimony for a woman or man who has not worked during the marriage, or for couples whose joint income exceeds $250,000 and alimony needs to be applied in addition to child support.
The alimony guideline calculator lists duration of alimony for couples married up to five years as being 50% of the months married; those married over 5 years to 10 years as being 60% of the months married; between 10-15 years as 70% of the months married; between 15-20 years as 80%; over 20 years may last to full retirement age of 66 or 67 of the payor or, with written findings of the Judge, based on relevant factors to a longer period.
The calculation for the amount of alimony is the difference between the larger earner’s income and the lower earner’s income, multiplied by 30%, 32.5% or 35%, depending on the couples’ circumstances; often the middle percentage is taken. Alimony or spousal support is determined, when all is said and done, by the prospective payor’s ability to pay, and the prospective recipient’s need for support.
Couples may decide together to sell their home, one may decide to buy-out the other’s interest, or trade for some other asset, or they may decide to hold it together for a certain time to provide a continuous environment for their children. In this case they share the costs of structural repairs, they may share the costs of real estate taxes, mortgage interest and share those income tax deductions.
Retirement Funds, Pensions and Investments
Couples married over 15 years, considered a long marriage by the Commonwealth presumably share 50-50 retirement funds, pensions, investments accumulated during the marriage. Many other couples take 50-50 as a point of departure for discussions.
These assets can be traded against, but the rationale for division of all property must be clear to each party. A defined benefit pension plan or current 401(K) must be divided by using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or a DRO. Other defined contribution plans may be rolled over into a ex-spouse’s name and account. Marriage is considered a partnership in the Commonwealth. A spouse who has not worked would have shared the retirement funds had a divorce not occurred and is entitled to this right
Clients of The Negotiation Collaborative, through the Certified Divorce and Financial Analyst quickly learn what their net disposable income is after they’ve paid their expenses and taxes and also what their future incomes will be far into their retirement years. What a relief people experience when they find they can “make it financially” in two households.
During the mediation process, each member of the couple:
- Lists and testifies to ALL marital property and ALL income
- Makes full financial disclosure
- Estimates costs of living separately
- Receives help in deciding what he or she needs r.e. children and finances
- Negotiates to a solution satisfactory to both parties
- Leaves mediation with a “Mediated Separation Agreement”
- Has a collaborative or review attorney review agreement, file joint petition for divorce, and “the divorce pleadings”
- Submits the Separation Agreement for court approval as the final divorce agreement
Divorcing partners, together with the expert assistance of the experienced mediator, create alternatives, then decide upon:
- Living arrangements, talking with and assessing children’s needs
- How children and parents will prosper during and after the divorce
- Financial support of children through college
- Financial support of each other, when necessary
- Division/buy-out/sale of real estate and marital property
- Tax consequences of sale/transfer of property
- Medical/ dental insurance/life insurance
- How to cover children’s expenses in the event of death
- How to divide debts/liabilities
Divorce Mediation is a respectful, inexpensive, confidential and efficient process. The benefits of this process include:
- Cost, time and conflict savings
- Better post-divorce adjustment for all family members
- Full voluntary financial disclosure of all income and assets
- Expert help in talking with, assessing children’s needs and living arrangements
- Comprehensive collaboration with the best financial, legal, parenting experts
- Teaching Couples to Preserve Their Relationship for the Emotional Health of Children
The couple’s Mediated Agreements detailing the full range of their agreement on parenting, support, division of property and tax consequences are:
- Drafted by the mediator
- Reviewed separately by attorneys for each party, a checks and balances process
- Finalized into a joint “Separation Agreement”, and signed as a legal contract
- Taken into Probate Court for a judge’s approval, becoming an order of the court.
The final mediated agreement, when signed, is a legal contract. It must be filed with a probate court when the couple has a divorce hearing to become a court order. In an uncontested divorce action, the divorce will be final in 120 days.
Divorce mediation clients find mediation respectful, efficient and economical. They find mediation helps them to:
- Custom tailor an agreement to meet their own unique needs, not just legalistic formulas
- Minimize adversarial interaction through a mutual agreement process
- Protect their children from undue pain and confusion
- Take charge of their own lives
- Develop a joint commitment to the agreement that enhances the chance that both parties will live up to its’ provisions.
- Ensure a confidential and voluntary process (Mass State Law, Chapter 233, Section 23c)
As standard practice in the mediation field, all mediation clients have their advisory attorneys review their joint agreements in their individual best interest after mediation. Only a judge, not a lawyer, nor a mediator is empowered to approve a Separation Agreement. In many cases clients benefit during the mediation from consulting with:
- Advisory/Review Attorneys
- Appraisers of property, businesses, pensions
- Certified Divorce and Financial Analyst, tax advisors, and financial planners. The cost of allied professionals are not significant to get your financial lives in order, until the end of your lives.
To make divorce mediation accessible to most everyone, a sliding fee scale, unusual in the Boston area, is being provided. Fees start at $225/hour for meetings, electronic mediation, drafting of Agreement for couples making up to and including $100,000 in joint income. The fees increase by $25/hour for each $25,000 in joint income being made up to a cap of $400 hour for all services provided.
We make every attempt to complete the mediation as quickly as possible consistent with meeting the needs of both parties. Our sessions are two hours in length and may take from 2 sessions to approximately 5 sessions. The time spent to draft the agreement is billed. Fee’s slide down or up from a base of $225 per hour, dependent upon income, a standard suburban mediation fee.
A highly enlightening and engaging presentation for your organization, business, church group,
family and mediation professionals.
this presentation has been very popular for women’s and men’s chamber of commerce and business groups, rehabilitation centers, university and school organizations and for people training to be family and divorce mediators. it may be followed by interactive exercises which allow participants to role-play becoming mediators themselves.