There are a number of paths couples can choose when deciding to separate, divorce or prepare for their post- divorce lives. The most popular, which is also the most emotionally charged option, is litigation. This involves significant court intervention, with each party being represented by a litigation attorney. During this process, the parties may attempt to resolve disputes between themselves, but often it is the attorneys who "represent" the party's position. When the parties and divorce lawyers cannot resolve an issue, then there is a hearing before the judge assigned to the case. It is the judge who will listen to the arguments of each attorney and thereafter make the decision for the parties. As a result, in a court system that has many more cases than resources to address the numerous family cases , it can often seem to be a cold, unsatisfying method of dispute resolution. Furthermore, there are tightly prescribed rules of court procedure and evidence that each attorney must apply to a legal proceeding, so the presentation of a party's position does not necessarily lead to a clear path of resolution. Yet, however difficult as the litigation process may seem, if each party is represented by reasonable attorneys who can work together to resolve most matters outside of the court system, the litigation process is much less stressful.
There are a few viable alternatives to resolve disputes that many divorcing couples prefer, as it gives them more control over the result because they jointly make the decisions for their families and for themselves. In Massachusetts, each of the alternatives can only achieve a successful result if the parties are willing to work with each other to compromise and create solutions and the professionals involved are adequately trained in the chosen alternative dispute resolution process.
Understanding the Mediation Process
Mediation for family law issues, such as divorce, custody, support, asset and debt division, offers a fair process. Both parties can use mediation to discuss and decide for themselves, with professional help of the mediator, arrangements for their children, support and property division. The parties jointly hire a neutral mediator to act, not as the attorney for either or both, but as a neutral mediation facilitator of solutions. During a series of meetings, the couple and the mediator work out a mutually satisfactory mediation plan covering the children's living arrangements, financial needs of the family and all other issues that need a solution. Both are encouraged to consult with an attorney or other advisor outside the mediation session, to assist the party with the final terms of an agreement. The mediation process is designed to reduce the adversarial element often encountered in a divorce proceeding and can also save time and money.
Attorney Mavrides has been a certified family law mediator since 1994. As a mediator, she can provide mediation services as a neutral third-party, or she can represent a client during the client's involvement in the mediation process.
Voluntarily Resolving Differences
Mediation itself is not a binding legal process. Once both parties agree on all divorce/paternity related matters, the mediator drafts an agreement that is submitted to the court. After the court reviews the mediation agreement, it is approved and becomes a binding legal document, finalizing the divorce or paternity matter.
This process is truly a "team" effort in which the parties and professionals collaborate to create resolution in a family law matter. As with most alternative dispute resolution processes, this is a voluntary process that requires two willing parties to commit to a process until mutual resolution is reached.
Attorney Mavrides is a certified Collaborative Lawyer and works with other professionals similarly trained. In order for a couple to engage this process, both must be represented by an attorney who has received training and certification in the field of Collaborative Law. Additionally, the parties work with a neutral "coach", who is trained to help facilitate discussions between the parties and work toward resolution of issues. Other neutral professionals may also become involved, such as a financial neutral, who assists in the financial decisions and a parenting specialist, who may be brought in the collaborative process to assist the parties with child-related concerns.
The key to the success of this voluntary process is the desire of the parties to work towards resolution and the removal of the threat of litigation. Both parties and their attorneys sign a Participation Agreement, in which all agree that they shall not resort to litigation if an impasse occurs. This pledge includes the agreement that neither attorney will represent their client in any litigation that may subsequently commence. Most Collaborative processes are successful because the parties do not want to resort to litigation and recognize that the progress made through collaborative efforts is not enforceable in any subsequent litigation. This process is particularly helpful for parties who are willing to be creative in structuring solutions so that the impact of divorce and separation have a minimal impact on families. It also provides a forum for parties to hone their post-separation communication skills with each other so that they are more effective parents to their children long after their divorce/paternity matter has been finalized.
Parenting Coordinators (aka P.C.) are similar to neutral mediators by helping both parties work out parenting schedules and other issues they cannot agree upon. They are often used in high conflict cases, in which the parents have difficulty communicating or deciding the day to day decisions for their children. Usually, both parents share the cost of the PC equally, so that one parent does not overuse the process to the financial detriment of the other parent.
The scope of the Parenting Coordinator's role depends on the language of the agreement both parties made and which includes the appointment of the P.C. Therefore, it is imperative that the parents consult with attorneys to determine the scope of the role for the P.C. and to determine the duration of the use of this P.C. in the future.
Attorney Mavrides has extensive experience as a neutral Parenting Coordinator to assist high conflict parents in resolution of child-related matters within the scope of her appointment.