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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.

Rear View Of A Couple Sitting In Front Of Mediator

What Is Family Law Mediation?

A family law mediator is a third party impartial facilitator who helps families resolve their disputes without lengthy and costly litigation.
Consider these questions:

  • Are you hoping to get a divorce without spending more money than you need to0?
  • Do you have conflict with your siblings about your parents’ end-of-life care?
  • Are you embroiled in intractable disputes with family about an inherited estate?
  • Are you unmarried and need to figure out a custody parenting plan?
  • Were you divorced a long time ago and now need to make changes to child support?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you have a family law dispute and mediation might help.

Why should I consider family law mediation?

Family court is an expensive, time-consuming, and acrimonious system. If you and your family (spouse, brother, parent, etc) would like to negotiate directly with one another an alternative path might be helpful.

Recently, I mediated between three siblings about inherited property. They had disputes about how to share the properties; how to care and maintain the properties; and how to handle an equity buy-out one sibling desperately wanted. The conflict got worse with time and when they called me there had been a complete breakdown in communication.

Of course, they each could hire a probate litigator to fight for their interests in court. Some would win. Some would lose. They would spend 10’s of thousands of dollars between them and exacerbate their already frayed relationships. And then wait a very long time for a determination by the judge.

Fortunately, they mediated. If you were to ask them why family law mediation should be considered they would highlight:

  • It saved us money
  • It gave us more control over the final decisions
  • We were more fair with each other
  • It saved us time
  • My siblings finally heard me out
  • Maybe we can share holiday meals together in the future
  • We are trying hard to work together to honor our deceased parents

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.

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!

Businesswoman making video call to business partner using laptop

Move Ahead with your Divorce During COVID-19: Zoom Remote Divorce Mediation

Email from divorce mediation client:

“Ben, looks like we will have to postpone our divorce mediation with the Coronavirus and everything going on. We’ll be in touch.”

In the last week during the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders I have received multiple emails just like this one.

Zoom to the Rescue!

I am happy to report that family and divorce mediation can continue during the Covid-19 era using Zoom remote video conferencing.

In fact, I have provided Zoom remote divorce mediation for years for out-of-state clients. Other times I have provided zoom remote mediation for clients who do not want to be physically in the same room together but see the benefit of communicating and negotiating directly.

Benefits of Remote Video Conference Divorce Mediation

Zoom remote divorce mediation is effective because:

  • Clear Communication: Participants can see each other’s body language, hear tone, read facial expressions, just like in-person meetings
  • Private Session Options: The mediator can still move to confidential private sessions during a longer mediation using “breakout room” features
  • Document Review: Everyone can look at, review, and fill out documents together using “screen-sharing” features

Additional benefits to Zoom remote divorce and family mediation include:

  • Comfort: Parties can make themselves comfortable in their homes or offices. Some mediate from couches, desks, and even outside on their patio on a nice day
  • Time-Saver: Remote mediation eliminates travel time
  • Flexible Scheduling: I am able to offer more flexible scheduling options since I too (during Covid-19 in particular) can meet earlier or later in the day without worry about commuting issues

 

 

Stay-at-home orders during Covid-19 do not need to slow down your divorce negotiation, or your efforts to resolving family conflict.

Email response to client:

“I hope you and your family are healthy and faring well during this challenging time. I have mediated over video conference for many years. Would you like to learn more about how that works so you can continue to make progress with your mediation?”

While some parents lament how much screen-time their kids have we can be grateful that “screen-time” can help mediation clients continue to move forward with their lives!

little girl with paper family in hands

Divorce with Children – An Interview with Ben Stich

I was honored to be interviewed by Natalie Armstrong from the Marketing Resolution YouTube Channel on Tuesday from among the many stellar divorce and family mediators she knows. The interview was fun, brief, and hopefully informative for viewers interested in learning about family and divorce mediation. Check it out!

Divorcing with Children: An Interview with Divorce Mediator Ben Stich

When there is a divorce with children an effective separation agreement can set the stage for better outcomes for kids. One of her goals from the interview was to help viewers learn how mediation helps parents craft a child-centered custody arrangement and parenting plan.

About Mediator Natalie Armstrong-Motin

Natalie is a fierce advocate of dispute resolution practices. She promotes divorce mediators and dispute resolution experts from a range of industries, including family law. Her goal is to increase awareness of peace-making resources that exist throughout the world. To that end, her YouTube Channel is a volunteer venture and does not produce income for her or the interviewee.

To learn more about Natalie’s work promoting mediation professionals check out The Marketing Resolution YouTube channel.

Her channel is all about the resolution industry. It highlights the providers – the mediators, arbitrators, collaborators, facilitators, trainers, authors, speakers, bloggers, organizations, associations, and laws. Contact Natalie Armstrong-Motin at Marketing Resolution

Child Custody and Visitation written on a paper and a book

How Custody Works in Massachusetts

The word “custody” conjures ugly divisive images for many people. This post will clarify how child custody works in Massachusetts.

Two Types of Custody

In Massachusetts there is legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves a parent’s legal right to making decisions for their child. Physical custody relates to time the child lives with each parent.

How Legal Custody Works in Massachusetts

Legal custody is a parent’s right to make decisions for their child. In particular, having legal custody allows the parent to influence the child’s education, medical care, and emotional, moral, and religious development.

In practical terms, having legal custody allows a parent to weigh in on decisions like:

  • Approving your child’s Individualized Education Plan
  • Consenting to your child’s surgery
  • Determining your child’s religious education plan
  • Deciding if your child sees a therapist

In Massachusetts, parents either have Shared Legal Custody or one parent has Sole Legal Custody.

Shared legal custody is typical whereby both parents are continually involved with all major decisions related to their child. Sole legal custody, which is less common, is when only one parent has the legal rights and responsibilities of making these important final decisions.

How Physical Custody Works in Massachusetts

Physical custody indicates where the child lives. In Massachusetts, parents either have Shared Physical Custody or Sole Physical Custody.

Shared custody is when a child has periods of living with each parent, so the child has frequent, continuous contact with both parents. Sole custody is when a child lives with one parent and is subject to reasonable parenting time with the other parent.

In practical terms, parents negotiate their parenting schedule. In divorce mediation, the outcome of the agreed upon parenting schedule determines the formal custody status.

How to Figure Out a Parenting Plan

During divorce mediation the mediator will guide parents through questions to consider in order to negotiate a parenting plan that serves the best interests of the child. There are a number of helpful resources mediators can provide that describe best practices, such as Planning for Shared Parenting which is endorsed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for parents living apart.

How Does “Custody” Work Bottom Line

The word “custody” makes many people feel uncomfortable. During mediation the mediator can help you navigate this without an over-emphasis on divisive language. A good divorce mediator will help  parents figure out two important issues that can be done without an over-emphasis on the “custody” word:

  1. How to make decisions for their child (i.e. legal custody) and,
  2. How to craft a parenting schedule for their child (i.e. physical custody)

Contact Ben Stich for a free mediation consultation if you would like to learn more.

This article “How Does Custody Work in Massachusetts” contains general publicly available legal information and does not contain legal advice. This article is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, contact a mediation-friendly attorney.

Child between parents trying to understand divorce

Your Kids and Divorce: Mediating a Child-First Divorce

What do kids and divorce negotiations have to do with one another?

A lot! (for parents).

Thinking about your kids could be the best decision you’ll make in your divorce negotiation.

Your Kids’ Shoes

I recently wrapped up a mediation that was a model child-centered divorce.

The parents weren’t buddies. They didn’t spend a lot of time together. They disagreed a lot during mediation.

In fact, they didn’t particularly like each other.

But they love their kids, and despite the obvious personal tension between them they embraced their redefined relationship: co-parents for life.

And they realized that to make a great parenting plan they needed some perspective.

Kids and Divorce Mediation

What kind of perspective?

Your kids!

Some would ask what a child’s perspective has to do with divorce negotiations, so let me explain.

The degree to which your parenting plan meets your children’s needs can profoundly affect how well they adapt to divorce.

My divorce mediation clients worked hard to put themselves in their children’s shoes and consider their perspective when crafting the parenting schedule, holiday division, and the many other parts of their parenting plan.

And the way in which they did this was usually subtle. They’d ask questions like:

She has all these activities…what kind of drop-off arrangement do we think would be least stressful for her?

You know, she’s really worried about the dog…would you ever consider having her bring the dog with her when she’s at your place?

He’s really anxious and worried about upsetting either of us…can we figure out how to explain the plan to him together? Maybe we can have a family meeting?

You know his friends are his life…we need to figure out a way to make sure we’re on the same page about play dates and birthday parties…

I think alternating Christmas, which is what I’d personally like to do, would be devastating for them…how can we make this work so it’s still special for them and not impossible for us?

Your Kids and Divorce…

Walking in your kids’ shoes for a moment can take the focus away from your spousal conflict and place it on what binds you most meaningfully: your children.

And will lead to a better child-centered parenting plan.

Woman at home holding a mobile phone with podcast app in the screen

What is a Mediator? Mediation Questions Answered on the Inside Divorce Podcast

I had a blast recently being interviewed by divorce attorney Cynthia Auckly-Barbuto of the Law Firm of Grossman & Associates (now Sassoon Cymrot Law) in Newton, MA. Cynthia hosted an edition of their Inside Divorce Podcast. We spent a half hour answering questions like “What is a mediator?” and “How can mediation help parents in high conflict situations divorce?”

Hear Ben Stich Featured on the INSIDE DIVORCE PODCAST

My interview on the Inside Divorce Podcast is described on their website as:

On Inside Divorce Episode 17, Cynthia Auckly-Barbuto, Senior Associate Attorney at Grossman & Associates, speaks with Ben Stich, LICSW, M.Ed., a Family and Divorce Mediator in Natick, MA (www.benstich.com). Ben specializes in separation and divorce mediation, parenting, modification, decision-making & communication, as well as martial issues. Ben also mediates elder issues like estate planning and end of life planning. Ben specializes in interest based facilitated mediation. In this episode Ben talks about different strategies he often uses in high conflict cases to best reach resolution in the mediation process. Ben is also an instructor for the Commonwealth’s only mandated High Conflict Parenting Education Program at William James College. The course is 9-weeks and focuses on conflict resolution & skill development.

What is a mediator? Hear me answer that and other questions about mediation, high conflict parenting, and divorce.

Grossman & Associates is a full service family law firm that prides itself on going above and beyond for their clients. They attend to the big matters and small matters with same attention and detail that all clients deserve.

If this interview was of interest please check out Ben’s interview with Alan Margulis from the Total Counselor Show on WCRN.

To learn more about divorce mediation or family mediation contact mediator Ben Stich for more information.

Recording equipment in studio. Studio microphone with headphones and mixer background

How to Divorce in Massachusetts Using Mediation: An Interview on WCRN

I had the great fortune to be interviewed by Attorney Allen Margulis of the Total Counselor Show on WCRN on July 31st about how to divorce in Massachusetts. During the hour-long interview we discussed the different ways to get divorced in Massachusetts, with a particularly emphasis on divorce mediation.

I shared one of my favorite mediation stories: Two parents came to me after spending six figures on their contested divorce process without any progress…and resolved the entire divorce in under $5,000 total mediation fees!

In addition to the financial and time benefits to mediation we discussed at length the destructive impact parental conflict has on child well-being, and how mediation can help parents craft great parenting plans. We also reviewed the role mediation can play to help with a range of family conflicts outside the context of divorce.

I hope you enjoy listening to three of the segments I have linked below!

Segment 1: How to Divorce in Massachusetts

Segment 2: How to Divorce in Massachusetts

Segment 3: How to Divorce in Massachusetts

 

A big thank you to Allen for hosting me on the show. Attorney Margulis is a respected Estate, Tax, Real Estate and Business Planning. Allen considers himself a tax-centric lawyer. He provides his clients with a complete and comprehensive strategic plan aimed at achieving their goals and objectives. He dedicates himself to providing all of his clients with superior service. Allen has 26 years experience in tax and accounting and 16 years in law. To contact Attorney Margulis click here.

For a free mediation consultation with mediator Ben Stich click here.

Illustration of chalkboard with text facts and crossed myths

Mediators Can Help HIGH Conflict: Fact or Fiction?

People tell me “I want to refer someone to you but they are really high conflict so there’s no way mediation could work for them.”

Then, I take a deep breathe, resist the urge to say something like “that doesn’t make sense!” and ask them to tell me about the situation.

FICTION: Mediators only works for couples who are amicable.

FACT: Mediation is a structured process that helps people in conflict come to resolution.

Mediators Say, Bring on the Conflict!

Divorcing spouses who hate each other?

Yup.

Co-parents who not have spoken face-to-face in years.

Yes.

Teenagers who “hate” their parents?

Uh-huh, that too.

Mediation is all about resolving conflict! Low conflict, high conflict, and everything in between.

Can mediation resolve all disputes? Of course not. But it sure can more than the public realizes.

Divorce Mediation Fiction

Conventional thinking about mediation is that it can’t work because the parties are:

  • Too combative
  • All about blame
  • Unwilling to consider another point of view
  • Resentful and vindictive

And this is just a sampling.

Challenging dynamics for sure.

Family Mediation Fact

I recently mediated a case with all those factors in play.

After nine months of paying attorneys thousands of dollars to try to settle and prepare for a trial these clients had made no progress. Not even one itty-bitty agreement.

As a last ditch effort to avoid a drawn-out ugly and exorbitantly expensive trial they tried mediation. The wife walked in and started the session by announcing that she has no confidence in the process, and this will likely be the first — and last — session.

Not an ideal starting point!

The tension was palpable.

It took some time, and lots of structure and intervention from me, but slowly they started to hear each other. They started to increase understanding of one another (NOTE: understanding is different than agreeing!). What started with hostility and blame often shifted to listening and problem-solving. And they started making decisions.

And the mediation fact is they successfully divorced.

The first step of any effective mediation must be two (or more) parties’ voluntary engagement in the process. Once engaged, family and divorce mediators have the skills and experience required to help folks navigate their disputes.

Mediators facilitate safe, constructive communication by:

  • Creating a safe and structured physical environment
  • Modelling and teaching effective communication skills
  • Helping clients stay calm
  • Guiding clients toward mutually satisfactory problem-solving (click here to learn more about positions and interests)
  • Teaching effective proposal-making approaches
  • and more….

Mediator Facts Matter…

My favorite mediations are those involving a high conflict situation. It’s when I have the greatest positive impact for my clients, and their children (if they have any).

In the end, having a skilled mediator increases the chances the parties will be able to:

  • Remain the decision-makers in their own dispute (particularly important with child-related matters)
  • Save a lot of money
  • Save a lot of time
  • Save a lot of heartache going through an adversarial litigation process
  • Improve their communication
  • Decrease long-term conflict
  • Move forward with certainty about the outcome of their conflict
  • Repair some or all of the relationship
  • And when children are involved, develop much better child-centered parenting plans (stay tuned for an upcoming post on mediating with parents in a high conflict relationship)

The FACT of the matter is this: Mediation IS an effective model for resolving high conflict disputes.