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

divorce negotiation tip is silence

Unexpected Divorce Negotiation Tip: Silence!

Are you familiar with the phrase, “Silence is golden”? Well, in the world of divorce mediations, it’s not just golden; it’s pure platinum! Let’s explore why embracing moments of silence can be your secret divorce negotiation tip.

1. The Pause that Refreshes: Imagine this scenario: You’re flabbergasted by something your spouse just said in mediation. Instead of scrambling for an immediate response, take a breath and remain silent for a moment. This pause allows you to process the information, weigh your options, and respond thoughtfully, rather than impulsively. Silence can help you maintain composure and avoid hasty decisions.

2. The “Listening Detective”: Silence can help you better understand your spouse’s interests and options. By staying silent, you encourage your spouse to share more information, thoughts, and sometimes concessions that might not have otherwise shared. Instead of interrupting, embrace silence. Become a “listening detective” by absorbing every detail. When you finally speak, your response will reflect a deeper understanding of their needs, paving the way for win-win solutions.

3. Mirroring and Building Rapport: People tend to mirror the behaviors of those they are communicating with. If you maintain a composed and attentive silence, your negotiation partner is more likely to do the same. This can lead to a more constructive, respectful, and collaborative atmosphere. It’s like a dance where both parties move in harmony, building rapport and trust.

4. Creating Space for Reflection: Negotiations often involve complex decisions with far-reaching consequences. Embracing silence provides a space for both you and your spouse to reflect on the discussion. It’s like stepping back from the canvas to see the bigger picture. By giving each other this mental space, you can make more informed choices and potentially find creative solutions.

5. Letting Offers Marinate: Sometimes, offers and counteroffers need time to marinate before they can reach their full flavor. Silence allows you to leave offers on the table without immediately accepting or rejecting them. This can lead to revised proposals that better suit both of your needs. It’s like cooking a delicious stew; slow simmering often produces the best results.

Do not underestimate the power of silence in negotiations. In fact, new MIT research describes how silence can be a game changing  (but difficult!) divorce negotiation tip to create a collaborative resolution! By strategically embracing moments of quiet contemplation, you can enhance your understanding of the situation, foster productive communication, and ultimately secure better outcomes. So, remember that sometimes, saying nothing can say a lot!

Photo by Ernie A. Stephens 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

mediation for separated parents

Mediation for Unmarried Parents

Here are some of the questions asked of me during a recent consultation for mediation with unmarried parents:

  • Do I have equal rights as a father?
  • Can I still get child support?
  • What decisions do we need to make for “custody and visitation” (which I refer to as a parenting plan)?
  • What can we submit to the probate and family court?
  • How can mediation help?

Do I have Equal Rights as a Father

Not necessarily.

Married parents are generally viewed as having equal parental rights prior to the filing of a divorce. For unmarried parents, unless and until paternity is established, mothers are provided full custody of the children. Once paternity is established how a judge determines child custody is the same for divorcing or unmarried parents.

The court can grant shared legal custody in a several scenarios, including if parents have entered into an agreement, such as one that might be forged in mediation. The Commonwealth has created a more detailed guide for custody issues for unmarried parents in Massachusetts.

Can I still get Child Support?


Child support is the right of the child to have both parents financially contribute to their upbringing. The Massachusetts child support guidelines are the same for unmarried and divorced parents.

What decisions do we need to make for “custody and visitation?”

If there is to be parenting time for both parents a parenting time schedule would be established. Unmarried parents can also develop a more detailed parenting plan that includes how to share holidays, vacation time, and more.

What can we submit to the Probate and Family Court?

There are forms to establish paternity, child support, custody, and parenting time. You can find this information on the unmarried parents page of the probate and family court website.

How can mediation help?

Mediation can help unmarried parents decide together what is the best interests of the children. Mediation keeps the decision-making in the hands of the parents and not a judge who does not know your child. Even if there are disagreements, mediation is a model for conflict resolution that can help unmarried parents find common ground in a more private, faster, cheaper, and child-centered manner.


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.

Parent annoyed at written co-parenting communication on computer

Top Tip to Improve Written Co-Parenting Communication after Divorce

Have you ever received a message from your co-parent that infuriated you? That was disrespectful and uncalled for?

In those moments have you replied by text or email out of anger? A response that also was disrespectful and uncalled for?

Be honest, have you ever hit “send” and later regretted it?

Of course you have! We all have at one time or another.

Co-Parenting Email can be Destructive

I recently mediated with two divorced parents who were furious with one another. I knew going in to the mediation they were fuming. I had been cc’ed on an email exchange the previous day full of colorful language and lots of finger-pointing. These well-intended loving parents were armed and ready to defend their positions and disprove the other parent’s arguments. Very quickly it became apparent that the conflict had almost nothing to do with the topic they were supposedly disputing. They were reacting to the nasty, inflammatory, and vitriolic written communication.

Here, take a look at an excerpt:

Mother:  I clearly see that you are trying to cause problems and not let me see our son ( simple question to a simple answer.) Like you didn’t tell me about the doctor’s appointment.. again   You told the school not to let me pick him up…  are you having someone else pick him up with out my knowledge outside of your family???? are you drinking ?? are you drunk? I don’t know where this line of questions come from..

Father: You’re an idiot. Of course I didn’t tell the school you couldn’t pick him up. Why do you always have to lie lie lie? you accuse me of things when you won’t even let me talk on the phone with our son without you eves-dropping!

Four Steps to Improve Co-Parenting Communication after Divorce

Bill Eddy, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute in California, developed the BIFF style of communication. I have introduced this approach to many families who have found it to help reduce conflict and increase co-parenting collaboration.

The idea is to approach all written communication, no matter the depth of conflict and ill-will, as a businesslike communication. For co-parents, consider yourself in the business of raising your children. As such, treat your co-parent as you would your boss, your professional business partner, a colleague, or your biggest client.

BIFF Can Transform Co-Parenting Communication

BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm communication.

  • Brief: Keep it short and sweet.
  • Informative: Keep it factual and specific.
  • Friendly: Be cordial, just as you would a colleague (think, please and thank you).
  • Firm: Be clear and specific about the information and what you are asking for.


BIFF eliminates finger-pointing, name-calling, insinuations, assumptions, blame, and a whole host of other destructive elements to written co-parenting communication.

So how would the previous email exchange look from my co-parenting mediation using BIFF?

Something like:

Mother: Fred, I had trouble picking Joey up from school today. The school told me they had received instructions from you that someone else will be picking him up. Can you let me know what happened? At some point soon I would like us to discuss some guidelines we can set to make sure the miscommunication that happened today does not happen in the future. When would you have time to discuss this? Thank you, Fred.

Father: Evelyn, yes, it seems there was a miscommunication. I mentioned to you last week that my mother was going to pick him up today to celebrate her birthday with him. I wonder if you forgot? Either way, it does make sense for us to figure out how to prevent miscommunication in the future. Are you available to talk at 8 PM tonight to try to figure this out?

Your co-parent is your business partner. Pause before you hit send. Re-read and ask your self, is this email brief, informative, friendly, and firm?

If not, edit it. Then hit send.

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.