WE HELP FAMILIES RESOLVE CONFLICT PEACEFULLY


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Parenting Plan Provisions - How Rigid or Flexible should You Be?

When drafting a parenting plan for separated parents of minor children, there are some basic things that should be in every plan.  These include answering the following questions:
  • Who has decision making responsibility (also known as legal custody)?
  • Who has residential responsibility and when? In other words, design a base parenting schedule (also known as physical custody).
  • When can the base schedule be changed? For example including a holiday and vacation schedule.
  • Are there any necessary agreements around communication?
  • Are there any limitations or notification requirements related to travel with the children?
  • How and when can the schedule be changed?
  • What other events require notification (such as illness of a child)?
  • What is your plan for dealing with disagreements?
Some parenting plans keep these terms relatively simple and leave a lot of room for flexibility between the parents.  There are pros and cons to any choice when drafting an agreement, and a flexible or vague agreement has risks and benefits.  One benefit is that it allows the parents to make decisions easily when life changes, without locking them into a schedule that might not work as their children grow.  It also encourages the parents to communicate about the children.

However, there are risks to a flexible plan as well.  If the parents have a lot of conflict, or find it difficult to communicate, then they may not be able to make decisions when the plan is not specific enough.  A more structured plan has the advantage of including a default schedule to fall back on when there is a disagreement.  In addition, while a structured and very specific plan can take longer to negotiate, it can help avoid future conflict.  For young or anxious children a specific schedule can also provide comfort that there is a clear plan for moving forward.

It's important to consider how specific your parenting schedule and communication guidelines should be based on the level of conflict in your case and the ages and needs of your children.  This is a good area to obtain advice from a child development specialist or an experienced family law attorney if you're not sure what to do.  You can use resources online to help you evaluate options, such as the Parenting Plan Worksheet available on the Skylark Law & Mediation website.

In addition to these basic considerations, it can also be helpful to consider provisions that address areas of potential future conflict, or any circumstances unique to your family.  This might include provisions surrounding:
  • Introduction of children to new significant others;
  • International travel and passports;
  • Preventative or elective medical or dental care, immunizations, and body modifications;
  • Children's use of technology;
  • Use of children's images;
  • Religious education
  • Disciplinary differences;
  • Safety provisions related to activities of children;
  • Defining the potential guardians of the children if both parents are deceased or incapacitated; and
  • A safety plan for parenting time if either parent has a history of abuse, substance abuse, or other condition that endangers the health or safety of the children.
If you're not sure how to address these provisions consider working with professionals and obtaining resources that provide sample agreements.  Gray Jay Endeavors, LLC has provided a comprehensive free Memorandum of Understanding form available for download here in a simple fillable format.  Full Separation Agreement templates, or specific schedules, can also be purchased from Gray Jay here.   The Agreement templates include sample provisions for all of the above listed parenting plan parts (both the basic and more unique portions).

If something is not addressed in your parenting plan you might be waiving your rights to it in the future, or setting up yourself up for future conflict in co-parenting.  To avoid these issues, you want to ensure that your agreement covers all the typical provisions and anything unique to your family.

We will continue to address these potential drafting issues in our upcoming blog series on Separation Agreements, including the following articles specific to parenting plan provisions:
  • Introducing new Significant Others to Children (and other difficult agreements to discuss);
  • The Intersection of Technology and Parenting Plans.

This is the second article in our series on Divorce Agreement drafting.

For the last article click here: What is the difference between a Memorandum of Understanding and a Divorce Agreement?

Check back for our next article: Introducing new Significant Others to Children (and other difficult agreements to discuss)

For more useful resources try these links:

Download a free Agreement Checklist

Download a free Memorandum of Understanding

Buy a Divorce Agreement Template

We hope you find these resources useful.  While our focus is on Massachusetts agreements, many of these tips will apply in other states as well.

Monday, November 25, 2019

What is the difference between a Memorandum of Understanding and a Divorce Agreement?

This is the first article in our series on Divorce Agreement drafting. For a list of the upcoming articles scroll to the bottom of this post.  If you want to jump right to our useful resources try these links:

Download a free Agreement Checklist

Download a free Memorandum of Understanding

Buy a Divorce Agreement Template

We hope you find these resources useful.  While our focus is on Massachusetts agreements, many of these tips will apply in other states as well.  Keep reading to learn more:

What is the difference between a Memorandum of Understanding and a Divorce Agreement?

To settle a divorce case in Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court requires that the spouses file an agreement resolving all terms related to dissolving their marriage.  This is typically called a Divorce Agreement or Separation Agreement.  It is a public document that the judge must review and approve for a divorce to be finalized in Massachusetts.

To be approved, the Divorce Agreement must include provisions addressing at a minimum:
  • Alimony
  • Asset & Liabilities Division
  • Health Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Legal & Professional Expenses
  • Income Taxes
  • Dispute Resolution Provisions
and if there are un-emancipated children it should also address:
  • Parenting Plan
  • Child Support and Expenses
A more complete checklist for agreements can be downloaded here.

The Divorce Agreement is a legal contract outlining these terms and, like a will or trust, it is best to have a lawyer draft the agreement. A Memorandum of Understanding, on the other hand, is a much simpler document, which outlines only the terms of the agreement without all the legal contract language or formality.

Often mediators will draft a Memorandum of Understanding to confirm the terms that spouses agreed on in mediation.  The Memorandum of Understanding (or MOU for short) must then be turned into a full Divorce Agreement.  In Massachusetts, a mediator who is also a lawyer can draft the full Divorce Agreement if both parties agree.

As an example of how different the language might be in each, a MOU might have the following language on child support:
Child Support is $300 per week paid by Jamie to Chris starting on November 29, 2019.
A Divorce Agreement will be more specific so that the court is clear on the additional details that may be necessary to enforce and clarify an agreement in light of the laws around child support in Massachusetts.  For example, a Divorce Agreement with the same terms might have the following language on child support:

Jamie and Chris now irrevocably waive all rights to past child support payments from the other party.  Jamie will pay to Chris, as current child support, the sum of $300 per week, with the first such current child support payment to be made on November 29, 2019 and on each Friday thereafter. The payment will be made by direct deposit into a checking account provided by Chris.  The amount of child support is consistent with the Child Support Guidelines effective September 15, 2018, and the guidelines worksheet filed herewith.
Jamie and Chris acknowledge that child support may be modified if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from the application of the child support guidelines. If either parent requests a modification of support, and they reach agreement, such modifications and agreements will be reduced to a writing in advance of implementation and will be signed by both parents and submitted to the court with a Joint Petition for Modification, at shared cost. If Jamie and Chris are unable to agree, they will comply with the Enforcement and Dispute Resolution provisions in this Agreement.
All obligations described in this Schedule continue until further Order or Judgment of the court or upon the disqualification of the children by their emancipation.  Emancipation is defined by the application of the pertinent provisions of M.G.L. Chapter 208, Section 28.


Some attorneys and mediators will also offer flat fee drafting of full Separation Agreements if you need assistance converting a Memorandum of Understanding into a Separation Agreement. Skylark Law & Mediation, PC offers these services on a flat fee basis, and our pricing is available online here.

It is important, whether preparing an MOU or the final Divorce Agreement, that you provide a complete description of your intentions.  If something is not addressed in the agreement you might be waiving your rights to it in the future, so you want to ensure to cover all the typical provisions and anything unique to your family.

In our upcoming blog series on Separation Agreements, we'll explore the various provisions that are often overlooked or incomplete including how to write agreement provisions that address all of these issues:
  • Parenting Plan Provisions - How Rigid or Flexible should You Be?
  • Introducing new Significant Others to Children (and other difficult agreements to discuss);
  • The Intersection of Technology and Parenting Plans;
  • What's in a Name? - Divorce Agreement Drafting for Real People
  • Gender Neutral Agreement Drafting - Avoiding Pronoun Problems
  • Child & Spousal Support Checklist for Agreement Drafting
  • Getting Retirement Division Right in an Agreement 
  • Dealing with Unusual Assets in a Divorce
  • Digital Images & Divorce - Love's Library Lost?
  • Frozen Embyros & Divorce - What is the Law in Massachusetts?
  • Health Insurance Options in a Massachusetts Divorce - Knowing your Options
  • Protecting the Life Insurance - Necessary Provisions to Avoid an Heir Issue
  • Equity Compensation, Is Baccanti all there is to it?
  • Is a Divorce Agreement a Contract? 



Thursday, October 17, 2019

You're Thinking about Conflict All Wrong

Today is the third Thursday of October, which also happens to be Conflict Resolution Day.  While that may not seem as fun as International Pancake Day, Conflict Resolution Day is an opportunity to think about the challenges we face in our lives, and wonder:

Is there a better way to think about conflict; 
a model which can free us from our fear of conflict?

Conflict is a part of everyday life.  In our individual struggles to survive, grow, connect, and control the world around us, we often find that someone or something is in our way or making it harder to reach our goals.  It is a natural, animal instinct to envision these conflicts as a simple dichotomy: me v. you, us v. them, plaintiff v. defendant, the hero v. the villain, etc.  We see conflict most simply as a tug of war between two positions, two competing interests.  But what if we're thinking about conflict all wrong.

If I win, you lose.  If you win, I lose.

Picturing conflict as a one-dimensional struggle between two forces allows us to frame the conflict in an easy to understand way.  If you're wrong, then I'm right.  If what I want is good, then what you want is bad.  It is a tug of war between two positions, and there are only four options for resolution: you win, I win, we compromise (we both lose something), or we end in a stalemate.

However, when we see this conflict dynamic in a two-dimensional space it can help us see that there may be additional options for resolution.  



Negotiating between two positions, what you want v. what I want, assumes that the resolution can only be located somewhere on the compromise line depicted above.  In this graphic representation, we limit ourselves to a solution that exists on the line between "You Win" and "I Win".  Those limitations also limit our process options, the choices of how we will resolve the conflict.  If you won't give in or compromise then I must either use force to change your mind or seek an outside decision maker.  I either given up my agency or force you to give up yours.

These limited options both for process and resolution, explain why conflict often makes people feel hopeless and powerless, like they are losing control, or it turns them into bullies.  The good news, is that we don't have to resort to these methods when we expand our view of conflict beyond one dimension.

In a two-dimensional model of conflict there are significantly more options both for resolution and problem-solving.  There are numerous options below the compromise line in which we both lose more than if we compromised.  This is often the result in litigation because the emotional and financial cost of the fight reduces the potential result by those costs.  A fight is not a zero sum game.

However, there are also numerous options above the line.


There are options where we both get what we want when we view conflict in two dimensions instead of one.  A two-dimensional conflict resolution model looks at the possibility that conflict is more like an Olympic race than a tug-of-war.

Most of the racers in the Olympics know they aren't going to beat the favorite, the Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  So why do they show up, then?  They still show up to the race because they are racing for something else.  They may be racing against their own time.  The may be racing to represent their pride in their country.

They crossed the finish line just like the "winner of the race", 
but they won something different.  

We often assume that everyone in the race has the same goal, and because of that assumption, we see one winner and the rest as losers.  This is an oversimplification.  We know that most people don't have a chance of beating Usain Bolt in a footrace, and at the same time we may still be successful people.  We have different goals.  Even Usain Bolt will "lose" his share of races to others, and that doesn't change what he has accomplished in the past.

The result of conflict can be a success for everyone involved when we look at conflict differently, when we look beyond the tug of war and see that our goals may overlap in some ways and diverge in others.  Even this two-dimensional model is limiting because it assumes that our own interests are linear.  As complicated beings we not only have multiple interests, some of our own interests can be in conflict.

The most accurate way to view conflict may actually be an imperfect sphere of intersecting lines of interest.  Viewing conflict in this way helps us see that every conflict has many, many possible resolutions, and is rooted in many potential competing interests.  The skills and techniques used by  mediators, and other conflict resolution professionals, aim to help people in conflict step back and see the forest through the trees.  When people see their conflict differently, as a three-dimensional problem they can solve together, then the process of finding resolution can be as complex and as beautiful as this sphere.

The most revolutionary transformation of conflict comes when we let go of the rope between us and see each other not as enemies, but as joint observers of the problem.  Leaving behind a one-dimensional view of conflict, frees us all to be more creative problem solvers.  A two or three-dimensional view of conflict also frees us from the need to use force, or give up control, in order to resolve the conflict.  Instead when we are joint problem solvers, conflict is a challenge that we can tackle together, and the process itself leads to a greater understanding of each other's core interests.

In conflict between people that have an ongoing relationship, like families, neighbors and co-workers, this process of understanding can actually help resolve (and maybe even prevent) future conflicts as well.  It may sound corny at first, but this broader model of conflict resolution can help us recognize the potential beauty in both the process and resolution of a challenge.  It can help us see the opportunity in conflict and take away the fear that makes us avoid conflict.

Facing conflict (both inside ourselves and with others) helps us better understand our place in the world and grow our selves and our relationships.‬  Let us not fear conflict anymore, but face it with a better understanding of it's inherent beauty, complexity, and it's relation to our identity.






Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Respect the Team

One of the principles of collaborative law is a team approach to joint problem solving.  The team approach to joint problem solving has numerous advantages:
  • We're smarter together: each team member brings a different background and expertise to the team.  As the saying goes, a jack of all trades is a master of none.  On a team, each person can be a master of their trade and rely on others for the knowledge they can't individually maintain.  In addition, as humans, professional team members sometimes make mistakes.  When we are open to feedback from other professionals, there is a greater chance that mistakes are minimized and corrected, ultimately offering a better service or product to the clients.
  • We're better together: each team member brings different experiences to problem solving.  Our experiences shape our ability to empathize and be creative in problem solving.  Having different experiences at the table increases the likelihood of spotting biases that could limit our creativity.  For example, on a divorce case it can be helpful to have some team members who have experienced divorce themselves, as they may be better able to identify with and explain some of the feelings that a client is expressing.  Understanding is an integral step in finding resolutions that truly match the priorities and goals of each participant.
  • We're stronger together: each team member is a resource for other team members in addition to being a resource to the clients. Difficult problems are not just draining on the resources of the clients, they can be draining on a professional team as well.  The professionals are just as human as the participants and sometimes we have issues in our lives that are triggered by the case we're working on.  When a professional team supports each other, we increase the ability for everyone to process their emotional reactions effectively and focus on joint problem solving.
  • We're faster together: each team member's ability to focus on their area of expertise allows multiple projects to move forward simultaneously.  While it may seem counter-intuitive that problem-solving is faster with more voices in the mix, when a team works together, effective delegation and coordination can make problem-solving more efficient.  In a collaborative divorce case, for example, it is possible for the parties to work with the coach on parenting issues, while at the same time the financial neutral and attorneys are making sure that the financial documentation is processed and appropriate scenarios generated. 
The key to all of this working is to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and to respect the value of every team member.  This is just as true in collaborative law work, as it is in any other team setting.  At Skylark Law & Mediation, PC we rely heavily on the strengths and unique experiences of each of our team members.  

It is all too common, unfortunately, for some people to be dismissive or rude to an administrative staff member, thinking that the person who answers the phone is not as important as the attorney or mediator working on their case.  What that person doesn't understand is that every member of the team is an integral part, who controls different pieces of the puzzle.  The clients who recognize the value of the team, benefit by lower costs because they spend less time with their attorney and mediator, using the full team for the strengths of each member.  

Being rude, disrespectful, or dismissive to any one team member is likely to cost a client more in the long run, and ultimately minimizes the potential benefits outlined above.  It's both polite and in your own best interest to respect the full team.  

If you're interested in learning more about collaborative practice consider attending the upcoming Introduction to Collaborative Law Training from the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council, or reading this article: Improving Negotiations using Collaborative Values: A Checklist of Tools.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

When Dividing Retirement Accounts in Divorce the Division Date Matters

There are a number of questions that must be answered when dividing a retirement account in a divorce.  Divorcing couples are often focused specifically on the amount or percentage of the account funds that they are dividing.  It is also important, though, to identify the date of that division, and whether investment changes are included or not.  This information is necessary because dividing a retirement account is not as immediate as dividing a liquid asset.

Dividing a retirement account in divorce requires a special court order (usually called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO).  The process of obtaining and implementing one of these orders is not immediate, and requires approval by both the court and the plan's administrator.  During this time, the account will change value.  Accounts change in value due to market fluctuations, but also due to withdrawals, loans, and ongoing contributions.  All of these changes can create havoc with a division if a clear date of division is not identified.

Consider just this simple division example:

Pat and Chris agree to divide Pat's 401(k) with Chris receiving 50%.

They don't specify the date of division, but they sign their agreement on January 2, 2019.  Due to the divorce process timelines in Massachusetts their hearing date on a Joint Petition for Divorce is February 4, 2019.  Their Judgment of Divorce Nisi issues on March 6, 2019, and becomes final on June 4, 2019 (their legal divorce date).  They just hired their QDRO drafter (on April 1, 2019) and estimate that the time from starting their QDRO drafting to having it implemented will be approximately 4 months (for drafting, pre-approval, court approval, final approval, and implementation), with an estimated transfer of funds on August 1, 2019.

The following are the changing values in the 401(k)

January 2, 2019: $400,000
February 4, 2019: $410,000 (from 1/2/19 contributions of $1,000, approx. investment gain of $9,000)
March 6, 2019: $425,000 (from 1/2/19 contributions of $2,000, approx. investment gain of $23,000)
June 4, 2019: $436,000 (from 1/2/19 contributions of $10,000, approx. investment gain of $26,000)
August 1, 2019: $438,000 (from 1/2/19 contributions of $14,000, approx. investment gain of $24,000)

Pat has continued to contribute to the account, and investments caused a surge in the Spring, but there have been some losses in investments in July.  Now consider the different resulting distribution of funds on August 1, 2019 depending on which date of division is chosen:

Date of Valuation Including Investment Changes Excluding Investment Changes
Pat Retains Chris Receives Pat Retains Chris Receives
Date of Agreement (January 2, 2019) $226,000 $212,000 $238,000 $200,000
Date of Hearing (February 4, 2019) $225,500 $212,500 $233,000 $205,000
Judgment of Divorce Nisi (March 6, 2019) $226,000 $213,000 $225,500 $212,500
Judgment of Divorce Absolute (June 4, 2019) $221,000 $217,000 $220,000 $218,000
Date of Transfer (August 1, 2019) $219,000 $219,000 $219,000 $219,000


*For demonstration purposes I've used round numbers, but there would be some additional differences due to the investment gains or losses on the contributions made between January 1, 2019 and August 1, 2019, and that would change these figures slightly as well.

In this example, Chris receives more of the account if all the contributions are included (a later date of distribution), and in most cases a greater resulting amount if investment gains are included as well (except when using June 4, 2019 because of the dip in investment values in July).  A later date of valuation is obviously better for Chris, but is it fair?

Pat may not feel it is fair to share the contributions after a certain time period, and the risk only increases to Pat if the QDRO process is delayed for any reason and the transfer date becomes later than August 1, 2019.  What is fair is always subjective, and one of the benefits of a set valuation date (regardless of which date) is that it gets ride of any motivation by Chris to delay the QDRO process.  

When sharing investment gains, Pat and Chris share the same risk and benefit of an increasing or decreasing market and for these reasons most divorcing couples choose to share the investment gains and losses, and to set as specific date of valuation.  While there may be reasons in some cases to vary from what is typical, it is important that everyone  understand these risks and benefits so they can make an informed decision.  

As QDRO preparation experts and consultants the staff at Gray Jay Endeavors, LLC wants their customers to provide clear direction for the drafting of the QDRO, preferably in their divorce agreement itself, so there is no chance for later disagreement if the market changes or the QDRO is delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. Many experts, like Gray Jay, will also assist in reviewing or drafting Agreement provisions related to retirement to ensure that all these issues are addressed.

Guest Post from Gray Jay Endeavors, LLC







Thursday, July 18, 2019

It's time for less BUTs in mediation

Use "and" instead of "but".  It's a simple change that in conversation and writing can mean a world of difference.  That difference is inherent in how we hear and read the word "but". 

"But" has a negating connotation, implying that everything that came before it isn't true.

I think this is a valuable lesson, but it's not revolutionary.  
I think this is a valuable lesson, and it's not revolutionary.

Which one of those sentences gives you the impression I think both things are true (which I in fact do believe)?  Obviously the "and" changes the way we read that sentence.  In fact, you only have to search google for the phrase "and instead of but" to see that many people have shared this idea before me.  It's not revolutionary, and it remains a valuable lesson, especially for mediators and negotiators.

Frankie, a contributor on Medium, highlighted that the importance of making this change is rooted in the fact that two things can be true at once, even when sometimes those things seem at odds.  Imagine how powerful this idea of dialectic truths can be in mediation:

I love you but I don't want to be married anymore.
I love you and I don't want to be married anymore.

The "and" makes the "I love you" seem genuine.  It's another thing that's true despite the second truth.  Now imagine how different these two sentences might be received in a divorce mediation.  Just knowing the difference could significantly change the tone of a conversation.

As mediators we are often modeling good communication for our clients, and this is another opportunity to do that.  In addition, it's often important to validate our clients concerns as part of effective active listening.  If we, as mediators, acknowledge a concern, and redirect with the word "but" we are potentially signalling to that client that we don't think that concern is important:

I hear that you have concerns about being equal parents, but 
I think it might help if we discuss the specifics of the parenting schedule.

I hear that you have concerns about being equal parents, and 
I think it might help if we discuss the specifics of the parenting schedule.

The first option implies that the mediator is trying to change the subject, while the second option, with only the one word difference, suggests that the mediator believes the specifics could help address the parents concern.  The mediator is redirecting the client to a more specific topic that might help them make progress, and at the same time validating the concern rather than dismissing it.  It can both be true that the client has parenting concerns, and that addressing the schedule could alleviate some of those concerns.

This has become one of the tips & tricks we share in mediation training and we encourage you to try it out in your personal and professional life.

If you're interested in learning more about upcoming mediation trainings you can visit Divorce Mediation Training Associates' information or registration page.

Thank you to Amy Martell of Whole Family Law & Mediation who first brought this issue to my attention at a collaborative law training.

If you're interested in learning more about upcoming collaborative law trainings you can visit Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council's Intro Training information and registration page.



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Innovation in the Family Court: Real & Imagined

Some Judges have long recognized the need for what Frank Sander called the "multi-door courthouse," a place where people in a dispute can find multiple ways of resolving that dispute, not just litigation. In a concurring opinion in the Cooper v. Keto case, Massachusetts Appeals Justice Brown pointed out that "Litigation should be the last option, not the first."  He also quoted a retired Judge's article in the Boston Bar Journal lamenting whether lawyers were adequately addressing this issue:
"'technical competence' of lawyers to litigate is greater today than ever, but lawyers often 'fail to consider whether doing it is useful'."
The good news is that many courts, especially family courts, are starting to recognize this need, and there are a more and more pilot programs taking place that provide opportunities for families to find alternative ways to resolve their conflict. 

In Massachusetts, there is a program in the Hampshire County Probate and Family Court called the Family Resolutions Specialty Court which is offering families another way. The FRSC is a voluntary option presented to families with custody or parenting disputes, and is very similar to the collaborative law model (with some notable differences).   The family is provided a mediator and an attorney for the child or children, and a Judge is available to meet with the parties in informal settlement conferences.  More details about the program are available on the Mass.gov site and in these two articles reviewing the FRSC program:

Boston Bar Journal: The Family Resolutions Specialty Court: A Community-Based Problem-Solving Court For Families in Conflict in Hampshire County

IAALS Blog: Massachusetts Family Resolutions Specialty Court: A New Alternative

The IAALS also reported earlier this year on some important steps taken by the Conference of Chief Justices to show their commitment to a less adversarial family court:

IAALS Blog: The Conference of Chief Justices Adopts Guidelines to Make Family Courts Work for the Families They Serve

The Guidelines rely heavily on a report from the Family Justice Initiative which showed that the family court system was not only inefficient but possibly discouraged parties from reaching uncontested settlements.  The findings included:

  • "72 percent of cases reviewed involved at least one self-represented party;
  • Most cases are uncontested, but contested and uncontested cases took about the same amount of time regardless;
  • Many current data systems do not provide judges, lawyers, mediators, and others with enough information to allow them to move cases through the system in an efficient way to help families get the resolution they need."

Improving case management systems, especially for uncontested matters, will obviously help families reduce stress and cost, and the courts can and should go even further, encouraging the use of mediation and collaborative solutions when possible.  The Principles for Family Justice Reform focus on joint problem-solving, triage, training and improving access to information and data.  The experts who are often needed in a divorce are people with mental health, financial, or child-related expertise, rather than legal expertise.

Family conflict should not be the purview of lawyers alone and it is time to question whether lawyers should even be the gatekeepers when family conflict arises. Indulge me for a minute and in the spirit of John Lennon:

Imagine, if a divorcing spouse, a person typically in pain and under emotional stress, was met at the courthouse first by someone trained in triaging their needs and in empathetic conflict resolution, instead of an administrative clerk;

Imagine, if the website for the court encouraged mediation first, and described the benefits;

Imagine, if uncontested divorces could be finalized without a Judge's signature (like marriage certificates);

Imagine, if every dispute involving children included the opportunity to involve an expert in child development;

Imagine, if every dispute involving complicated financial issues included the opportunity to work with neutral financial experts;

Imagine, if we started considering the court as a place people go to make peace instead of a place they go to make war.

Now you may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. 

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