WE HELP FAMILIES RESOLVE CONFLICT PEACEFULLY


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Questions Should You Ask Before Hiring a Divorce Mediator?

There are numerous articles telling you what you should ask a divorce attorney before you hire them and we recently posted our advice on preparing for the attorney-client interview.   As mediators we encourage clients to work with attorneys to make sure that they are fully informed throughout the divorce process, but we also recommend, in most cases, that clients try mediation before having their attorneys negotiate or litigate on their behalf.

We recommend a mediation-first approach because of the many benefits of negotiating on your own behalf with the help of a skilled mediator.  Hiring a mediator, though, can be just as confusing and stressful as hiring a lawyer.  We're hoping this article helps make that process easier:

Finding the Right Mediator for You

Similar to hiring a lawyer you want to make sure that you ask questions about the mediator's practice, cost, and experience, to ensure that your mediator fits your financial circumstances.  Typically more experience means a higher rate and not every case requires the most experienced mediator.

It is also very important that any mediator that you work with is a good personal fit.  A good mediator helps you express your goals and positions in a way that the other side can actually hear.  This leads to better understanding and ultimately settlement, but it all starts with the mediator being able to effectively understand your goals.  If your mediator is not an effective listener and doesn't understand what is important to you then your mediation will likely fail.

First, you need to make sure you understand your own goals and can articulate them.  Ask yourself the following questions before you meet with a mediator:

  • What is the most important issue for you?
  • What do you need? 
  • What do you hope to accomplish in your case? 
  • What do you want your life to look like after your case is over? 
  • What do you want for yourself out of life?
  • What do you want for the other people involved in your case? 
  • If your case involves children, what do your children need and what do you want for your children? 
  • Why are you choosing to meet with a mediator (instead of or in addition to a counselor, coach, attorney or other divorce professional)?

Now that you understand your own goals and needs better, here are the questions that can help you discover if a mediator is right for you:

  • What training have you taken in the field of mediation?
  • If you also practice a different profession (attorney, counselor, etc.), how is your role different as a mediator than in that profession?  
  • What advantages and disadvantages are there to hiring an attorney-mediator vs. a mediator with a financial or mental health background?
  • What are the other options besides mediation for us to resolve our case?
  • What do you think is the most important aspect of mediation?
  • How do you help us meet our goals in mediation?
  • If we disagree with each other during the case about the best way to attain or prioritize our goals, how will you handle that disagreement?

These questions are not about testing the mediator's ability to think on their feet or their experience with your type of case.  Instead, these questions are designed to illicit answers that will help you know whether the mediator is a good fit for you.  After meeting with the mediator you should ask yourself the following questions to decide if you should hire them:

  • Do you need a mediator who can provide legal information or one who is more skilled at finances or communication dynamics?  
  • Does the potential mediator share your approach to problem solving and your style or will their style conflict with yours?  
  • Does the mediator's view of what is important in mediation match with your reasons for choosing mediation as an option?

Going through any type of family dispute can be extremely stressful, and you want to find professionals that reduce that stress by understanding you and your goals.  Click here to learn more about mediation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Collaborative Law & Mediation: So Simple a 1st Grader can Do It!

Recently I attended my child's first grade open house.  Among the many details about policy, projects and pick-ups, the principal shared an interesting theme that they are working on this year.  He described the PAWS principle that they teach our children (aptly named for a school with a bear mascot).

PAWS stands for:

Practice empathy,
Act responsibly,
Work hard, and 
Solve problems together

These principles struck me because they are so basic that we often take them for granted.  In Collaborative Law and Mediation we live by the PAWS principles but often struggle to boil them down to so simple of a form.  If first graders can get it, though, we should be able to make it this easy for adults.

As one six year old recently tried to explain to her fighting parents: "Nobody gets along all the time. But disagreeing sometimes is one thing — treating each other poorly is another."  This viral video of a six year old explaining how to be nice to her parents is both adorable and full of wisdom:




If you are struggling with a family conflict (or know someone who is) consider how you can apply the principles we learn in first grade.  Practice empathy when considering what both sides have to offer each other and how each side may have unique goals and interests.  Act responsibly by doing the work you agree to do, and providing answers to each other's questions.  Work hard to solve hard problems, instead of looking for quick or easy solutions that might be detrimental in the long run.  And most importantly, solve problems together because conflict doesn't start with one person and it never ends with only one person's solution.

Taking positions in litigation or negotiation often fails to reduce conflict because the unilateral attempts to find a quick solution fail all of these tests.  It's so simple a first grader can do it.  Can you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Today, I Didn't Win - A Collaborative Law Success Story

Everyday someone fails.  Sometimes marriages fail and sometimes parents fail.   Sometimes the courts fail families and sometimes lawyers do.  Sometimes mediation fails to help people reach agreements, and sometimes people fail to help themselves.

But sometimes, we also succeed.  There are success stories in family court, mediation and collaborative sessions that save relationships, and parents who overcome divorce to raise good confident children.  Today was one of those success stories and it's one worth sharing:

Today, I didn't fight for my client.  I didn't beat the opposing party.  I didn't solve the problem triumphantly by myself.

Today, I didn't win.

Instead, the opposing counsel, the collaborative coach and I did something together, as a team.  We helped two parents talk.  That might seem simple and easy, but for some parents, in some situations, it is not.  It took preparation and time, and some failures along the way.  It took a process designed to help and it took people willing to believe in the possibility of peace.

Today Collaborative Law resulted in a successful meeting, not just because of the process, but because of the people.  It's not over yet and we might still falter, but today it wasn't about winning, and so it also wasn't about losing.  Today it was just about being parents together, and listening to each other.

Today, we made a family stronger.

Tomorrow, we might fail again, but because of days like today I know that peace even in the face of terrible conflict is always possible.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

3 Amazing Facts about the DOR Child Support Enforcement Division

In Massachusetts the Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division (DOR:CSE) provides child support collection services to both payors and recipients of child support.  Three attorneys from DOR:CSE recently spoke at a Boston Bar Association Family Law Section Brown Bag presentation and shared the following amazing facts:

In 2014 the Massachusetts DOR:CSE collected 
over $646 million dollars in child support.  


DOR:CSE can collect child support in any case where the child support figure is a sum certain and the recipient requests services.  They deduct support directly from the payor's paycheck which reduces the administrative burden of payment on both the payor and recipient.  They also track any arrears which can assist parties in keeping a clear record of child support owed.



Each case at DOR:CSE has an individually assigned case worker 
and each case worker has between 1200 and 1900 cases.  


DOR:CSE has a comprehensive website that can provide a lot of information generally about there services and specifically to a recipient or payor about their account.  They also have a customer service line (1-800-332-2733) that can answer many of the basic questions that you may have.  If you have a more complicated question about your case, you should contact your case worker directly.


Despite the number of cases, DOR:CSE case workers are 
required to respond to all inquiries within 72 hours.


Case workers can be extremely helpful in addressing any issues with your specific child support case.  DOR:CSE can assist with reviewing support orders for consistency with the current child support guidelines and help with asking the court to modify the amount of the child support if necessary.  The can also assist with collection and enforcement remedies, such as bank levies, tax refund intercepts and credit reporting, to collect overdue support.


Click here if you want more information about the services available from DOR:CSE (and the services that are NOT available).

If you have a DOR:CSE hearing and need further assistance click here for more information.

Finally, if you found this information helpful, check out this site for upcoming programs from the BBA Family Law Section, including our next program on October 6:  How to Effectively Utilize the Various Settlement Processes Offered by the Court.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Questions Should You Ask Before Hiring an Attorney: a Mediator's Perspective

Experiencing any type of legal dispute is stressful and many people walk into a lawyer's office nervous and anxious about the experience.  In order to reduce that anxiety and ensure that you hire someone who is a good fit for your case, it is important to consider what questions you want to ask and to enter that meeting prepared.

There are numerous articles telling you what you should ask a divorce attorney before you hire them. The typical advice ranges from the obvious (what are their billing rates) to the not-so-obvious (what percentage of their practice is devoted to your type of case).   As a mediator, though, my advice is a little more personal.

Does your lawyer understand your goals?

While it is important to ask questions about the lawyer's practice, cost and experience, it is also very important that any counsel that you hire understands your goals.   The type of lawyer you choose to meet with and hire can have a significant impact on how you view conflict in your case and whether those conflicts are resolved or inflamed (this is what we have previously termed the Observer Effect in Family Conflict).  If the lawyer doesn't value or agree with your goals then your are guaranteed to have a negative experience in your case.

First, you need to make sure you understand your own goals and can articulate them.  Ask yourself the following questions before you meet with an attorney:

  • What is the most important issue for you?
  • What do you need? 
  • What do you hope to accomplish in your case? 
  • What do you want your life to look like after your case is over? 
  • What do you want for yourself out of life?
  • What do you want for the other people involved in your case? 
  • If your case involves children, what do your children need and what do you want for your children? 
  • Why are you choosing to meet with an attorney (instead of or in addition to a counselor, coach, mediator or other divorce professional)?

Now you are prepared to explain to your potential attorney what your goals and needs are and to then ask the attorney:

  • Do you understand my goals?
  • What are the different options for me to accomplish what I want in my case?
  • How is your role different in each option, for instance if I choose mediation what would your role be?
  • How do you prioritize potentially conflicting goals, such as reducing conflict vs. getting the best deal?
  • If we disagree during the case about the best way for me to attain or prioritize my goals, how will you handle that disagreement?

These questions are not about testing the attorney's ability to think on their feet or their experience with your type of case.  Instead, these questions are designed to illicit answers that will help you know whether this attorney is a good fit for you.  Do they share your approach and your style or will their style conflict with yours?  Going through any type of family dispute can be extremely stressful, and you want to find an attorney that reduces that stress by understanding you and your goals.

I once heard an attorney tell a client that the client got to set the destination, but that the attorney was the one who drove the bus.  If you're concerned about who the attorney might run over getting to your destination then you may want to ensure that you hire an attorney who lets you navigate too.


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