Mediation is a process that allows both spouses to work together to decide how they want to handle decisions in their divorce. A mediator is a neutral third party who helps design and craft an agreement which both parties feel is fair and equitable.
Mediation is confidential. The matters discussed and information exchanged in mediation are not subject to Discovery (meaning neither party nor the mediator can be forced to disclose what occurred or was said during mediation).
We offer mediation services throughout New England. Mediation sessions are conducted in person in our Providence office, as well as through video conferencing. Divorce mediation is provided on a flat fee basis ($1,750 for Rhode Island mediations and $1,950 for Massachusetts mediations). The flat fee covers up to 5 mediation sessions. In addition, (for Massachusetts mediations) the fee includes our drafting of the marital separation agreement and preparation of the court documents. Currently, we are not able to prepare the papers for Rhode Island mediations, but we will prepare a memorandum of understanding, as part of the flat fee. A memorandum of understanding details each of the major points of the divorce agreement. In Rhode Island, the memorandum of understanding is used by your attorney to draft the marital separation agreement which is filed with the court.
During mediation, we will examine child support, child custody and visitation, spousal support (alimony), and how to distribute the marital assets, including the marital home and retirement accounts. We will assist you in reaching an agreement in those areas. Once completed, we will draft the marital separation agreement and necessary court documents (Massachusetts) or the memorandum of understanding (Rhode Island).
Each couple is different, but typically the mediation process takes about 4 to 5 sessions. Each session is between 1 to 2 hours. Depending on schedules, from the initial meeting to completing the marital separation agreement or memorandum of understanding, the mediation process can be completed in a couple of weeks. Our mediators meet with clients during times convenient to our clients (evening and weekend appointments are available).
The mediators at Shapiro Dorry Masterson, LLC are all attorneys. As mediators, we are neutral third parties and do not represent either party in the mediation. Mediators cannot offer legal advice. At any point during mediation, and particularly before either party executes a marital separation agreement or memorandum of understanding, the parties have the option of having their own attorneys review the agreement. You may want to retain an attorney solely for the purpose of filing the marital separation agreement and necessary divorce papers with the court and to guide you through the court process. We will discuss the divorce court process during mediation but we cannot file documents for you or represent you at the hearing.
Once an agreement is reached, the next step is to file a divorce action in the court. In Rhode Island, a nominal track divorce is filed. This represents to the court that the parties have reached an agreement prior to any court hearing. Once filed, the nominal hearing will be held within 75 days. The hearing itself will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Within 30 days of the nominal hearing, a document called “Decision Pending Final Judgment” is filed. This encapsulates the facts and findings of the judge during the nominal hearing. 90 days after the Decision Pending Final Judgment is filed, a Motion for Final Judgment is filed with the court. This document tracks the Decision Pending Final Judgment. The Court, assuming the Final Judgment is consistent with the Decision Pending Final Judgment and the court hearing, will endorse the Final Judgment, making the divorce final.
In Massachusetts, you will file the necessary court documents as part of a Joint Petition for Divorce (often referred to as a 1A divorce). Both parties will need to provide a Parent Education Certificate which can be obtained by taking the parent education class. This is a 5-hour class, offered online or in person over two nights. Once the documents are filed, the court will notified you of the hearing date. At the hearing, the Judge will approve the agreement. Thirty days after the approval, the court will issue a Judgment of Divorce Nisi. The divorce will become final ninety days after issuance of the Nisi. Because of the complexity of the court process, you may want to hire an attorney to guide you through it.
Having life insurance to cover future child support payments and/or spousal support payments is highly recommended. Our office can provide you with the names of reputable insurance agents familiar with the divorce process that can help both parties.
Your home, in most cases, is a marital asset subject to distribution on a fair and equitable basis. As part of the mediation process, we will help you reach an agreement relative to the home. Should one party desire to remain in the home, we can discuss refinancing options to ‘buy out’ the interest of the other spouse. In the alternative, if the property must be sold, we can discuss the timing of a sale and the handling of proceeds of the sale. Our office has worked with the top real estate agents and mortgage professionals in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Each are available to you to discuss your options.
Is the marital separation agreement binding and enforceable?
Yes. Once both parties sign the marital separation agreement, it becomes a binding contract. If either party breaches the agreement, the other has the right to go back to court to enforce it or return to mediation to resolve any issue. In our experience, mediated agreements tend to last. Most people adhere to the terms of the agreement because they decided the terms and controlled the mediation process.
However, circumstances do sometimes change and often through no fault of either party. Work responsibilities may change and that forces a change to child custody, visitation or support payments. Usually, modifications can be agreed to and implemented after a mediation session or two.
Mediation is a method to resolve disputes by focusing on the party’s interests rather than their positions. A mediator assists the parties in crafting a resolution. Mediation is not a court proceeding. The results of mediation form the basis of your divorce judgment, rather than a judge determining your divorce judgment.
Mediation is not marriage counseling. However, working with therapists or marriage counselors is encouraged. Mediation is not about winning at the expense of the other party. It is about both parties working together to reach an agreement that they each accept.
Mediation is not financial planning. However, finances are often a major consideration in crafting an agreement. Having a certified divorce financial analyst review, comment and contribute to your understanding of your financial situation is important and helpful. We can refer you to a couple of outstanding certified divorce financial analysts.
Most importantly, mediation is not public. What is discussed in mediation stays in mediation. Divorce is emotional. No question. The mediation process can get emotional. However, details of your marriage and reasons for the breakdown are not made public, as may happen in divorce litigation.
At Shapiro Dorry Masterson LLC, in Providence, we represent divorcing spouses throughout New England. Call us at 401-400-5985 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with a qualified family law attorney.