Divorce Options

The decision to divorce is almost always very difficult.  


It is rare for both spouses in a marriage or committed relationship to decide to end their relationship at the same time.  


Divorce is a legal, financial, and emotional process.  Some divorces are more difficult than others, but none are easy.  Divorce means loss (but there can be gains too).  Divorce is often the most difficult and painful time of someone's life, and how it is handles affects the future of both spouses and their children.


There are many decisions that must be made in a divorce.  Some are big ones, some are small ones.


There are several ways to make these decisions:


1.  If your communication with each other is reasonably good, honest, and effective, and your financial situation is simple (you haven't been married very long, you have no children, few possessions, an uncomplicated compensation package at work and little or no debt), you can sit down at your kitchen table and work out most of the terms of your divorce.  Then you can consult an attorney or mediator to help you put these terms into the form needed to take them to court.  


All divorces must be brought in front of a judge in the appropriate Family and Probate Court to be approved.


2.  You can hire two divorce attorneys to negotiate your divorce terms for you, and litigate if negotiation fails.  The attorneys will do the negotiating, and you and your spouse are usually encouraged to avoid discussing terms with each other.  If either one of you is unable to speak for themselves and advocate for what they need, or if one or both of you is unwilling to engage in a collaborative process, this may be the right path for you.


3.  You can use a divorce mediation process.  If you feel able to speak for yourself and your needs, and are willing to engage in a collaboration with your spouse (with help from a trained mediator) to do the work needed to divorce, this may be the right path for you.  It usually costs less than any of the other options (except for the kitchen table chat).  


Divorce mediators can be either attorneys or mental health professionals or others who have been trained to do this work.  As there is no licensing system for divorce mediators in the state of Massachusetts, getting recommendations from a trusted source or consulting the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation's list of certified mediators can be helpful (mcfm.org).


A divorce mediator must be neutral, will educate you about the pros and cons of all of the decisions you must make, will help you discuss each decision with your spouse, and will help you manage the usual conflicts inherent in this situation  Many divorce mediators encourage their clients to each hire a mediation-friendly attorney for the purpose of reading their final agreement before they sign it, and perhaps also t advise them in their ongoing mediation negotiations.  Your mediator can provide much expert information, but must remain neutral, while your attorney can and should offer expert advice.


4.  You can use a collaborative law process.  This requires each client to hire an attorney trained in collaborative law.  The attorneys and clients agree to negotiate in good faith, respecting both clients' needs and striving for an agreement that is supportive of each client's interests and needs and based on trust and full disclosure of finances.  The current standard of practice for collaborative divorce is also to hire a neutral coach, who is a mental health professional also trained in collaborative law.  The coach is responsible for facilitating communication, helping resolve conflict, and helping the clients create their post-divorce parenting plan.  


All major negotiations (aside from the parenting plan work with the coach) are held in five-way meetings with both clients, both attorneys, and the coach.  Sometimes an additional neutral who is a financial expert is included in these meetings, if needed.  


If this is the best process for your family, you can find information about collaborative practice attorneys and coaches through the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council (massclc.org).

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