Divorce 101

By: Noemi Razso

If asked, most people would probably say that they would like to have an “amicable” divorce. In Massachusetts this is called an uncontested divorce (1A Divorce) where you and your spouse come to an agreement on each aspect of your life relevant to your case, such as division of assets and liabilities, child support and spousal support, parenting plan for the children, health and life insurance, taxes, etc. After the completion of the separation agreement, you file a joint petition for divorce along with your separation agreement and request an uncontested divorce from the Court. The divorce is final 120 days after the uncontested hearing. Sounds easy, right?

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The reality is that most spouses have great difficulty reaching agreement on issues that need to be settled for a separation agreement.  Their individual needs are no longer aligned and in most cases both parties are hurt and angry and have difficulty communicating with each other, let alone coming to agreements on very important issues affecting their lives and their children’s lives.  

Both sides are entering one of the most painful processes they can experience.  Many consider divorce to be second in grief only to death of a loved one.  In a sense it is a death of the relationship and the family as it was and the dreams of the family for the future.  As such, it needs to be treated as a loss and understood through the grieving and mourning process.  The beginning stages of grief are denial and anger, which will be followed by acceptance and letting go at a later time.   And to complicate matters, this is a time that the State has a say in family decisions.

Parties may then decide to work with lawyers to help them navigate the legal process.  Some lawyers can be very adversarial and further complicate the already hostile emotional environment.  Some lawyers, such as Collaborative Lawyers, are committed to a more cooperative process.  But there is another alternative that can be faster, less expensive and less emotionally damaging.  Mediation allows the parties to explore the range of decisions that need to be made in an atmosphere that is respectful and geared to thoughtful decision-making. And when there are children mediation hopefully sets the stage for a more collaborative decision making process as they navigate all the future decisions they have to make as co-parents. Mediation can assist people to express and hear the raw feelings, and still help them take the actions that are going to be in everyone’s long-term emotional and financial interests. It’s hard to use reason during the divorce process when emotions are so loaded, and mediation does not work for everyone, especially in situations where the parties ironically use conflict to stay connected.  It can, however, provide a potential map out of the painful and angry process of divorce, and it is up to each side if they wish to follow it.