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Divorce Mediation in Massachusetts - A Five Minute Overview

"Can you provide me with an overview of the divorce mediation process in Massachusetts?"

I am asked this question daily, often several times.

I am always glad to answer that question over the phone, as well as provide information about divorce in Massachusetts. But don't stop reading now, instead of calling you can find out the answer to the question here - in just about five minutes of reading time.

Here goes:

Divorce mediation creates an opportunity for spouses to work out the terms of their divorce with the assistance of a mediator. The mediator, a neutral, works with both parties to help them reach agreement on the topics that need to be addressed in order to obtain a divorce in Massachusetts.

Here at MWI, it does not matter to us which topic is dealt with first. A benefit of mediation is that clients can choose. Some come to us with issues that they want or need to address first, for example:

  • "I haven't seen my kids in three weeks, we need to discuss parenting."
  • "I don't have access to money to pay bills, we need to discuss finances."
  • "I want to know I can stay in the house."

If there is a pressing issue that both spouses would like to discuss, that topic will be discussed first. If not, a checklist of topics is provided to each participant. Some clients go down the checklist and tackle each topic as they appear on the list. Others look at the list to help determine where they would like to start and then decide where they want to go from there.

During this time, a mediator helps clients by:

  • Summarizing what is being discussed
  • Facilitating the discussion
  • Managing interactions and keeping the conversation productive
  • Providing information and answer questions such as, "What is the difference between legal custody and physical custody?" Or, "How is child support determined?" "If we reach agreement is it binding?" "Can we change the agreement later?" And several others.

Once all topics have been addressed, often over 2 - 4 meetings, the proper documents are drafted and provided to the clients. Whether it is a Memorandum of Understanding (a summary of what was agreed to) or a Separation Agreement (the legal document needed to file for a 1A divorce) or both, clients will have a written summary to review. Some choose to review it with counsel, others do not.

After the necessary topics have been addressed and reviewed, mediators help clients complete court required paperwork and provide detailed instructions on how to file for divorce in Massachusetts. Filing for divorce in Massachusetts can be very simple, once it has been explained to you.

Married couples in Massachusetts who reach agreement on the terms of their divorce can walk into the Probate and Family Court Department in the county where they last lived together, and provide the completed divorce paperwork to the person working in the Probate Department. In exchange for the paperwork and a filing fee of $215, couples will receive a date to attend court for a brief hearing.

The hearing is rather routine. Your names will be called and you will stand before a judge. The judge will have received and reviewed your paperwork ahead of time and will ask any questions he/she feels are necessary. At a minimum a judge may ask:

  • "Did you read the Separation Agreement?"
  • "Did you sign it under your own free will?"
  • "Have you reviewed each other's financial statements?"
  • "Are you sure you would like to divorce?"

Then, as long as the judge feels the agreement is fair and equitable, a divorce will be granted. In this case, the divorce is final 120 days later.

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