Susan Rossi Cook, Attorney and Mediator

Franklin Legal Blog

Alternative dispute resolution in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Trial Court not only offers, but also encourages, alternative dispute resolution in family law matters such as divorce and child custody. As such, they have produced a guide for both represented and non-represented parties detailing alternative methods to reach a resolution outside of the courtroom. Family law matters are among the most stressful types of cases. When disputes can be settled outside of a courtroom, it allows parties to pick up the pieces and move forward with as little damage as possible.

Seven different types of alternative resolutions are noted. They include arbitration, mediation, conciliation, case evaluation, mini-trial, summary jury trial and dispute intervention. An experienced family law attorney will be able to discuss each method in detail, and attempt to determine which would be most suitable based on the facts of your particular case.

Facilitating the relationship between children and step-parents

A major component to any successful co-parenting plan is that both sides agree to do everything within their power, and within reason, to facilitate a healthy relationship between the children and any step-parent who enters the picture. There are several tips to help along the journey.

First, set a standard for allowing a step-parent to discipline a child. The best way to do this is for both parents to agree on methods and to what extent discipline from a non-biological parent will be allowed. It is important that these guidelines be communicated to the step-parent from a unified standpoint. When divorced parents can get along and communicate respectfully, a step-parent will be much more inclined to encourage respect from the children as well.

Keeping your divorce out of the courtroom

It is common for parties who are just beginning the divorce process to be adamant on destroying one another in a courtroom. However, this is usually before they realize that it is likely going to cost thousands of dollars and several months of time and stress. This, among many others, is the reason mediation can be such a great alternative divorce resolution.

First, let's talk about the costs of a divorce. The longer the process takes, the more you are going to pay. A divorce where the parties are unable or unwilling to come to an agreement can drag on for months, or even years in some cases. Parties may pay an attorney a large retainer up front, but often do not realize how quickly ongoing charges will deplete that money. Before they know it, they are receiving an invoice for an additional $5,000 or higher replenishment. Whereas, a couple who agrees to settle their disputes through the process of mediation can save thousands of dollars. Parties will also negotiate who pays the costs of a mediation. Often, the fee is split evenly between the two.

Resolving conflicts around parental rights and child relocation

When parents share custody of their child, it is often a delicate balance keeping both sides properly engaged in the child's life. This is especially true when one parent faces the prospect of relocating and taking the child with them. Depending on the nature of the move and the division of custody time, the move often means that the non-custodial parent may see their parenting time drastically reduced. It may also impose significant expenses for the parent who wishes to consistently remain in their child's life after relocation.

It goes without saying that relocation conflicts are among some of the most complex issues that family law covers. Ultimately, courts tend to assess relocation requests or opposition by looking at how the move may benefit or negatively impact the best interests of the child. Parental relocations are common and are regularly approved.

The different types of property subject to division

Property division can be complex during the divorce process so it is helpful to know what different types of property will be involved and what the legal categories of property are. Property division is a necessary process divorcing couples must go through during divorce and legal resources are available through the family law process to help.

Marital property is the category of property that is subject to division during the divorce process. There is a long list of property that will need to be divided including the family home; home furnishings; cars; furniture; clothing; bank accounts; and cash; pension plans; 401(k) plans; stocks; life insurance policies with cash value; and any interest the couple may have in a family business. Valuation of property may be required in some instances.

What happens when a parent wants to relocate?

Parental relocation can be a big concern for parents sharing custody of their child. Parents wishing to relocate, as well as parents opposing a relocation request, may have many questions about parental relocation that they need answers to.

Parental relocation of the custodial parent can be a significant stressor for parents and children and can throw a wrench in in an existing child custody arrangement. A noncustodial parent may want to dispute a parental relocation request because of the impact it will have on child custody or visitation agreement. The parent requesting the relocation may believe they have valid reasons for requesting it.

Help for parents with the child custody process

Child custody is a concern on the minds of many divorcing parents in Massachusetts. The divorce process can be challenging for families, parents and children but can take a special toll on children which is why parents should understand how the child custody process in Massachusetts work and the options available to help them through that process.

The family law process provides many different and flexible resources to help divorcing spouses address and resolve their child custody and co-parenting concerns in a way that is in the best interests of the child and works for the different and unique situation and circumstances each family is in. Different tools, including negotiation, mediation or collaborative law divorce, can help divorcing couples address child custody concerns in the most efficient, and least acrimonious, way possible.

The different types of alimony in Massachusetts

Alimony can be requested by either spouse and can be important to both spouses. Because of how important alimony is, it is important for divorcing spouses to understand the alimony process and what types of alimony may be available.

There are generally 4 types of alimony that may be available in Massachusetts. The first type of alimony that may be available includes general term alimony which is support that is regularly paid to an ex-spouse that is financially dependent on the other spouse. The duration of general term alimony depends on the length of the marriage. Rehabilitative alimony is another type of alimony that may be available which is support that is expected to last for a certain period of time while the recipient spouse obtains the skills and training necessary to become self-sufficient.

Mediation can help with a smoother divorce process

Mediation can be a valuable tool during divorce that can help divorcing couples resolve divorce-related concerns in a peaceful and positive manner. Mediation can help divorcing couples resolve divorce-related concerns including property division, alimony, child support and child custody concerns.

While the family law court is always available to help divorcing couples reach a divorce settlement agreement that addresses property division, child support, child custody and alimony concerns, the mediation process gives divorcing couples more control over the process so they can decide what is best for them, their children and their family with the aid of trained mediation guidance. Mediation involves the use of a trained mediator to help divorcing couples reach compromises with the benefit of understanding how family law might address some of their concerns and divorce-related issues.

Do these things to be a better parent after divorce

Many people opt against divorce because they're concerned about the impact on their children. While it's nice to put your children first, it's not a good reason to stay in a bad marriage. You need to do what's best for you, as this ultimately means doing what's best for your children.

The way you parent during your marriage won't be the same as the way you parent after divorce. Here are five tips you can use to be a better parent once your divorce is finalized:

  • Focus on spending quality time with your children: Many parents get caught up fighting for as much parenting time as possible. While this is important to a certain degree, a quality over quantity approach is the way to go. Make every minute with your children count.
  • Regularly review your parenting plan: What worked in the past may not work today. And what works today may not work tomorrow. Regular reviews of your parenting plan will help you make changes as necessary (with the approval of your ex-spouse, of course).
  • Communicate with your ex-spouse: If you don't have children with your ex-spouse, you can go your own way and never talk again. However, when co-parenting, this isn't doable. You need to communicate regularly, whether it is via phone, text, email or face-to-face meetings.
  • Don't let your temper get the best of you: There will be times when you want to lose your temper, such as if the other parent blatantly does something you asked them to avoid. It's easy to scream and argue, but you'll regret it in the future.
  • Work on yourself: Now that you're single, you can spend more time working on yourself. Focus on things you can do to make yourself a better parent, as this benefits both you and your children.
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Susan Rossi Cook, Attorney and Mediator

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Franklin, MA 02038

Phone: 508-507-8742
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