how divorce mediation helps couples divide assets fairly

How Divorce Mediation Helps Couples Divide Assets Fairly

Divorce is overwhelming for so many reasons, not the least of which are the financial implications of separating. Figuring out how to support two households instead of one and still accomplish your financial goals are parts of the challenges of divorce. While asset division is never easy, and hard decisions are required, this post will briefly explain how divorce mediation helps couples divide assets fairly and equitably.

What is asset division?

There is a common misconception that couples are required to divide everything equally. Not so!

Massachusetts follows the principle of “equitable distribution” when dividing property in a divorce. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal; instead, it means dividing assets fairly. The goal is to ensure a just outcome that might be 50/50 but not necessarily 50/50. 

All divorcing couples are required to disclose all financial assets and liabilities to each other and to the court using court financial statements. This includes financial accounts like bank accounts, investment accounts and retirement accounts and real property like the value of real estate, vehicles, and jewelry. All liabilities must also be disclosed. All assets and liabilities need to be addressed in the divorce agreement, which is called a Separation Agreement in Massachusetts.

How divorce mediation helps couples divide assets fairly

Your mediator will guide you through the financial disclosure process and ensure you have both reviewed the other’s financial statement. The mediator will then facilitate a discussion about your financial interests. Interests I often hear about in mediation include:

  • I’d like to be able to afford to be a homeowner
  • I want to be able to retire before I’m 70
  • I want to be able to put the kids through college
  • I want to get debt-free
  • I want to afford to move overseas
  • I’d like to stay in my community so I can remain connected to my congregation and friends

Once interests are determined it easier to work together to decide how to divide assets in way that is fair, reasonable, and equitable.

Consider this example from one of my mediations:

Spouse A wants to be a homeowner and plans to work “until I drop.” They have a large retirement savings from previous jobs.

Spouse B wants to retire at 65. They are a homeowner but have little retirement savings.

Option 1: Divide 50/50.

If they divided things 50/50 Spouse A would not have enough cash to be a homeowner and Spouse B would not have enough retirement savings to retire by 65. They would both lose!

Option 2: Make decisions based on interests.

By making interest-based financial decisions Spouse A received the house and spouse B received a very high percentage of the retirement assets.  Win-win!

Are there other financial issues we need to figure out in our divorce?

Yes! If you are parents decisions need to be made about child support and other child-related expenses like activities, uninsured expenses, and schooling. Spousal support, which is commonly known as alimony, may also be a consideration. Your mediator will guide you through all those decisions.

Can I change my mind about property division after the divorce?

No. All property division in a Separation Agreement functions as an independent contract (the legal term is “survives” the judgment of divorce). That means unless fraud was committed once assets are divided they cannot be undivided by the court. 

How can I learn more about how mediation can help us divide assets fairly?

If you would to learn more about how mediation can help you divide assets fairly schedule a free half-hour consultation with Ben.

Photo by Steven Van Loy on Unsplash

how a mediator can help divorcing couples figure out alimony in Massachusetts

Alimony in Massachusetts

Going through a divorce and figuring out how alimony in Massachusetts works can be confusing, overwhelming, and emotionally taxing. 

What is Alimony in Massachusetts?

Alimony, which is commonly known as spousal support, is financial support that one spouse may pay to the other after a divorce. Its primary purpose is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a similar standard of living they had during the marriage for a specified duration.

Different Types of Spousal Support in Massachusetts

There are four types of spousal support in Massachusetts.

  1. General Term Alimony: This is typically awarded in longer marriages and provides ongoing financial support to the recipient spouse. There are maximum lengths of alimony based on the length of the marriage: 
    1. Marriages of 5 years or less: 50% of the number of months of the marriage
    2. Marriages of 10 years or less: 60% of the number of months of the marriage
    3. Marriages of 15 years or less: 70% of the number of months of the marriage
    4. Marriages of 20 years or less: 80% of the number of months of the marriage
    5. Marriages more than 20 years: typically, until retirement
  1. Rehabilitative Alimony: Designed to support the recipient spouse while they acquire the necessary skills or education to become financially independent. It has a specific end date. The duration is not to exceed more than five years.

  2. Reimbursement Alimony: Awarded when one spouse supported the other in pursuing higher education or career training during the marriage. The recipient spouse is reimbursed for the support they provided. This only applies to marriages of five years or less.

  3. Transitional Alimony: Provides financial assistance for a short period to help the recipient spouse adjust to a new life situation, such as relocation or reestablishing themselves. This only applies to marriages of five years or less.

Factors Considered in Alimony Determination

When determining negotiating spousal support in mediation couples can take many factors in to account, such as:

  1. Length of the marriage 
  2. Financial needs of both parties 

  3. Income and employability 

  4. Standard of living during the marriage 

  5. Contributions to the marriage — financial (earnings) and non-financial (raising the children)

  6. Age and health 

  7. Other relevant factors: Any other relevant circumstances may be taken into account, such as child support and tax consequences.

Can Alimony Change Over Time in Massachusetts?

Yes. The modifiability of spousal support is something you will decide together in mediation.

Alimony orders in Massachusetts are not usually set in stone. They can be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances for either spouse. For example, if the paying spouse loses their job or the recipient spouse secures a well-paying job, the alimony arrangement might be revisited.

Why it’s important to consult an attorney if you want advice about spousal support

Your mediator will educate you and facilitate your negotiation. However, the mediator will always remain neutral about the decisions you make. The court prefers divorcing couples to seek independent legal counsel (ideally from a mediation-friendly divorce attorney) to help provide guidance. The law around support obligations is complex and getting advice can help folks mediating make better informed decisions.

How can I learn more about how mediation can help us figure out alimony?

If you would to learn more about how mediation can help you figure out alimony in Massachusetts schedule a free half-hour consultation with Ben.

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

what is child support in massachusetts

What is Child Support in Massachusetts?

Child support is a crucial aspect of ensuring child well-being when their parents are no longer together. In Massachusetts, as in many other states, child support is a legal obligation and the right of the child that aims to provide financial support to help children maintain a quality standard of living. 

What Does Child Support Cover?

Child support is a regular, monetary payment made by one parent to the other to help cover the costs of raising their child. Child support ensures the children’s basic needs will be provided for in both parents’ homes. It also helps the children enjoy a similar quality of life in both homes. Generally, child support helps to offset a portion of the cost for food (ex. groceries and hygiene), clothing, and shelter (a portion of overhead).

What Does it NOT Cover?

Child support is not intended to provide for all child-related expenses. Most parenting plans include separate arrangements for how to pay for other expenses, such as activities, lessons, and camp; most uninsured medical, dental, vision, and psychological expenses; day-care or private school; and sometimes college.

How do We Calculate Child Support in Massachusetts?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires all divorcing parents to complete the child support worksheet. On the form you will provide the following information:

  • Proportion of time each parent has with the children
  • Number of children
  • Number of children that are above or below 18
  • Gross income of each parent
  • Health, dental and vision insurance premium costs
  • Child care costs
  • Other child support obligations

The calculator will then provide a weekly child support figure.

Do We Need to Use the Number from the Worksheet?

Divorce mediation provides an opportunity for parents to figure out child support in Massachusetts. Parents can follow what the worksheet indicates, known as the guideline order. Or, they can deviate if they believe another amount serves the children’s best interests. Parents often consider the paying parent’s ability to pay and the receiving parent’s needs for providing for the children.

The Massachusetts’ child support guidelines outline a long list of factors to consider in determining child support. A mediator can help guide a constructive negotiation. 

How can I learn more about how mediation can help us with child support?

If you would to learn more about mediation to determine child support schedule a free half-hour consultation with Ben.

Photo by Steven Van Loy on Unsplash

divorce advice

Divorce Advice: Interview with the Divorce Resource Guy Podcast

Ben discusses his approach to divorce mediation and divorce advice with The Divorce Resource Guy, Jason Levoy!

 

Divorce Coach

Jason Levoy is a former divorce attorney, now turned divorce coach. His mission is to educate, empower and help you understand the divorce process from an attorney’s point of view. Jason’s coaching will provide you the tools and knowledge you need to communicate effectively during your divorce.

His goal is to empower you with the information you NEED TO KNOW so you can make the best decisions in your divorce and your life.

Let’s Talk Divorce Mediation Advice

Jason and I had a wonderful conversation about the ways divorce mediation can help couples resolve their divorce outside of litigation. I hope you take a moment to listen to learn how mediation might help you and the support Jason provides to his divorce coaching clients.

How can I learn more about family and divorce mediation?

If you would to learn more about divorce and family mediation schedule a free half-hour consultation with Ben.

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

divorce mediation in massachusetts

An Interview About Divorce Mediation in Massachusetts

Ben joins Divorce Lender John Marroni to discuss divorce mediation in Massachusetts.

Divorce Mortgage Lending

Thank you to John Marroni for a wonderful conversation about divorce mediation. John is a Certified Divorce Lending Professional (CDLP).

The focus on John’s practice is to help divorcing homeowners make good informed decisions about what is usually their largest asset: their home. He is a creative problem-solver who has a proven track record of helping families make decisions about home equity and navigating the potential conflicts between divorce agreements, mortgages, and the property itself. In particular, he helps couples understand the difference between income and qualified income; what contingent liabilities mean; and different ways of structuring equity buy-outs.

Divorce Mediation in Massachusetts

John asked me some amazing questions about divorce mediation and how it works in Massachusetts. His interest in collaborative out-of-court resolution to divorce is clear. We discussed ways to communicate effectively in divorce mediation; the complex issues that can be navigated and resolved through divorce; and the creative ways a mediator can help to resolve important conflicts related to parenting plans and financial division.

How can I learn more about family and divorce mediation?

If you would to learn more about divorce and family mediation schedule a free half-hour consultation with Ben.

Interview about Ben Stich's Divorce Mediation Services

Interview about Ben Stich’s Divorce Mediation Services

“Respectful divorce.”

Unconventional phrasing for many ears.

We hear about ugly and disrespectful divorces all the time in our society. In the news (think Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie). At work. In the neighborhood. Perhaps in your own family. Sadly, with disrespect comes conflict.

A disrespectful divorce can be costly on so many levels:

  • Financially
  • Loss of time
  • Lack of control over the outcome
  • For parents, more harmful stress for children

Divorce does not need to be disrespectful.

Schedule a FREE Consultation with Ben!

The Respectful Divorce Podcast

My colleagues Tim Crouch and Camille Milner host the Respectful Divorce Podcast. They have devoted their time and resources to spread the word about respectful divorce. They have learned that divorce mediation services and collaborative divorce can facilitate a respectful divorce process.

They believe a respectful divorce can be a savings on so many levels:

  • Financially
  • Saving time
  • Providing more control over the outcome
  • For parents, decreasing stress for children

Respectful Divorce: An Interview about Ben’s Divorce Mediation Services

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Camille about collaborative and divorce mediation services. To listen simply hit the play button.

Thank you for listening. Learn more about how mediation might help you with a respectful divorce by completing the contact form.

Couple going through divorce signing papers

How Can I Get a Divorce in Massachusetts?

There are two ways to get divorced in Massachusetts that are important to understand for anyone wanting to know how to get a Massachusetts divorce.

  1. Uncontested Divorce
    An uncontested divorce in Massachusetts is called a 1A Divorce.
    The two spouses will make all their decisions about their divorce – financial and parenting – and submit their decisions to the court for approval. This usually involves one hearing with the judge and is the last step in the divorce negotiation process.
  2. Contested Divorce
    A contested divorce in Massachusetts is called a 1B Divorce.
    Typically, one spouse will initiate the divorce proceedings by filing. The complaint for divorce and summons are served on the other spouse. A series of court appearances then occur. During this process some divorces settle out of court. Others end in a litigated trial.

Divorce Professionals in Massachusetts

During a 1A uncontested divorce the spouses negotiate the terms of their divorce. They can do this on their own, or with the help of a third party like a divorce mediator. They can also pursue a team approach to their divorce negotiations called Collaborative Law.

During a 1B contested divorce one or both spouses are represented by an attorney who negotiates on their behalf. Spouses may also represent themselves, or go pro se, which is the legal term for self-representation. The contested divorce will either settle out of court or end in litigation.

How to Know When an Uncontested Divorce Mediation Approach is Right for You

If any of the sentiments below resonate mediation might be worth exploring:

  • I don’t want this process to create any more conflict for the kids
  • I don’t care what a judge thinks about my marriage, I want to make the decisions
  • I know I need help but I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg
  • I don’t want this divorce to take forever
  • I just want us to end this process on decent terms
  • I just want us both to be fair to each other
  • I just want out of this marriage as soon as possible without creating more ill will

Can we handle our divorce on our own?

Yes, although proceed with caution to be sure the court will approve your agreement. Handling divorce on your own is most successful for extremely short-term marriages with no children and minimal assets. 

What if I don’t feel safe?

Speak to your mediator or attorney right away if there are safety issues.

If you fear harm due to domestic violence consult with a family law attorney and your local community resources immediately.

Divorce Mediation in Massachusetts

For the vast majority of couples who want to negotiate in good faith; save time, money and heartache; have more control over the outcome of the divorce negotiation; and set the stage for more effective co-parenting, mediation is worth exploring.

Two cheerful black and white recruiters welcoming female applicant on job interview, african and caucasian hr managers greeting candidate for vacant position, handshaking and good first impression

Choosing the Right Divorce Mediator

Next to the loss of a loved one it is said that divorce is arguably the most stressful experience one can have. It is important that you pick a divorce mediator who can guide you through the complex divorce process in Massachusetts.

Trust, comfort, and confidence in your divorce mediator is essential. Trust in their integrity. Comfort with their style and approach. And confidence in their knowledge and skills. Knowing how to choose a divorce mediator is an important step in moving forward with a collaborative divorce process.

Read what clients have to say

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Divorce Mediator in Massachusetts

  • How long have you been mediating?
    Look for someone with experience. How many divorce mediations are they currently working on? 
  • What is your background and why did you become a mediator?
    Some mediators are social workers, some attorneys, some financial experts, and more. Why did they get in to mediation?
  • What differentiates you from other mediators?
    Every mediator has strengths they bring to the table and they should match what you believe you need. What sets them apart from other mediators?
  • What are your rates?
    Mediators should be up front with all associated divorce mediation costs.
  • How long will this process take?
    Mediators cannot predict the future. However, they should be able to guesstimate a range of sessions you will need after asking you a few questions.
  • How does the paperwork get completed?
    Some mediators provide the court forms and others don’t. Some draft the Separation Agreement and others only a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would be brought to an attorney for drafting. A good divorce mediator should outline in detail the services offered.
  • How do you handle conflict?
    Every mediator has approaches they use to manage conflict that arise in divorce negotiations. They should be able to describe some of the ways they manage difficult conversations.
  • What does the divorce process involve?
    In any consultation a mediator should be able to provide a general overview of a 1A uncontested divorce process. Ask about the decisions that need to be made, the legal standards the probate and family court use to approve decisions, and for a description of the hearing process.
  • How were you trained and how do you keep up with current practice?
    Most mediators affiliate with mediation organizations. Others have continuing education requirements as part of their professional licensing.
  • How would you describe your mediation style?
    There are formal styles (facilitative, evaluative, and transformative). Mediators should be able to describe their own personal style.
  • What ethics, values and principles do you follow?
    Any mediator should describe the core principles of mediation. Similarly, they should describe their personal guiding values.
Schedule a FREE Consultation with Ben!

The Single Most Important Factor in How to Choose a Divorce Mediator in Massachusetts (or anywhere!)

Fit.

You will be sharing deeply personal information. Determining your financial future. Crafting a co-parenting plan to help your children have the best possible childhood. 

Bottom line: it is critical that you both feel secure and comfort with your mediator.

Trying to choose a divorce mediator in Massachusetts or New England? Contact Ben Stich if you would like to ask him any of these questions in a free divorce mediation consultation.

Close-up Of Hand With Pen On Petition For Divorce Paper

How to Get an Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts an uncontested divorce is called a no-fault 1A divorce. In a 1A the couple jointly petitions the court to review and approve their separation agreement, which is the divorce agreement (a confusing misnomer for those already separated). The couple will have already come to agreement on all terms of their divorce, including the division of assets and liabilities and for parents, the parenting plan.

Options for Pursuing an Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts

There are three ways to pursue an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts:

Do-it-yourself divorce:

It is possible to file for divorce on your own. The benefit of doing so is that it is the quickest and least expensive approach. It is best suited for short-term marriages with minimal assets and no children. The disadvantage is that for parents and/or couples with assets it be can difficult to make informed decisions about very important matters (your kids and your money) without the guidance of a divorce professional. Unfortunately, it is common for do-it-yourself agreements to be rejected by the court (and I have mediated agreements for couples who first tried to file on their own to then have a judge fail to approve the agreement).

Divorce Mediation:

Divorce mediation is the next most cost-effective process. The mediator facilitates the divorce negotiation and provides important information to make sure informed decisions are made. If there is disagreement the mediator will help the couple resolve their conflicts. The couple remains in control of their decisions and can determine the pacing of the process. Mediation is confidential which can help couples negotiate in good faith. Mediation is also voluntary and is effective for both amicable couples and couples experiencing high conflict…as long as both spouses choose to participate.

Collaborative Divorce:

Collaborative Divorce is a team approach to divorce. Both spouses hire a collaboratively trained attorney. A divorce coach facilitates the process. The coach works with the couple to support their participation in the process. The coach also works with the attorneys to help them function as a team to address the interests of both spouses. The attorneys may only negotiate when in team meetings with the spouses and the divorce coach present. Often, a financial neutral also joins the team to provide financial guidance. Collaborative divorce is more expensive than mediation but usually less expensive than contested divorces. Like mediation, the couple negotiates directly and has control over the outcome. Unlike mediation, the negotiation occurs with their legal counsel on hand to provide direct guidance through the process.

One other uncontested divorce option:

If a spouse has filed a 1B divorce the couple can still participate in Mediation or Collaborative Divorce and change the contested 1B divorce to an uncontested 1A divorce.

To learn more about how mediation or collaborative divorce can help you file an uncontested divorce contact Ben for a free half hour consultation.

Young african american black woman relaxing and using laptop computer with white mockup blank screens

How to Divorce Online During Covid-19: Free Online Mediation Checklist

Resolving divorce and family conflicts are more important now than ever during Covid-19. Thankfully, we live in an age of sophisticated technology. Zoom online mediation brings the mediation room to you!

I have provided virtual remote mediation for many years to accommodate clients living in different locations. And I have learned a lot about what makes for a successful Zoom mediation.

Online Divorce During Covid-19: Do’s and Don’ts

DO Plan Ahead

Mediating stressful conflict occurs best when you are comfortable, free of distractions, and have what you need to keep yourself calm. To that end, consider:

Location: Where can I have the most privacy? My bedroom? My office? My car? The basement?

Minimizing Distractions: Where will the kids be? What can they be doing outside of earshot? What about the dog?

Timing: How can I avoid needing to multi-task? Should I cook before or after? Can I clear my work calendar for two hours?

Comfort — Physically and Emotionally: What do I need to be comfortable? Can I fill up my water bottle in advance? Do I need something to fidget with? If I’m living with my spouse should we be together? Or separate rooms on different devices?

Preparation: Should I have paper and pen to take notes? Have I printed out forms that I need? Do I have a calculator available?

Technology: Am I familiar with Zoom (click here for Zoom tutorials)? Should I do a test call? Where do I have the strongest Wi-Fi connection? What device am I going to use? Do I need to start my video and audio settings?

 

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When Divorcing Online, Avoid…

Driving: Believe it or not, zoom driving happens. It’s dangerous! And distracting. If your car is the most private spot make sure you’re parked.

Being too Informal: It can be easy to loosen boundaries in the comfort of your own home. Remember, mediation typically occurs in a formal conference room — aim to present yourself as you would in my office!

Drinking Alcohol: In the comfort of your home it might be tempting to have a drink while mediating — if you wouldn’t do it in my office, don’t do it at home during mediation. It will interfere with your decision-making and compromise the process.

Inflammatory/Intimidating Backgrounds: Do not fiddle with weapons, cut vegetables with a sharp knife, have a photo of your new significant other in the background, or expose the other party to things that will increase tension, stress, and obstacles to good-faith negotiation.

A Word about Kids and Online Divorce Mediation During Covid-19

Mediating from home is hard, particularly for parents. Remember, it is in your kids’ best interest they are not exposed to:

  • Financial matters between parents
  • Court and legal matters between parents
  • Conflict, tension, and arguing between their parents

Make sure your kids are engaged in an activity out of ear-shot. If necessary, let me know that you need to take breaks to check-in with your kids..or if your kids walk in the room unexpectedly!

Balancing parenting, work, and a divorce from home is a tall-task. Part of my job is to make the process work for you — and that includes making adjustments so that online divorce and family mediation is as effective as in-person mediation!

What other recommendations do you have for how to mediate divorce during Covid-19 online? Please leave a comment!