Fair and Equitable, Oh, and Feasible, too

The standard by which all Separation Agreements are judged is “fair and equitable.” In order for a couple to get divorced in Massachusetts, their agreement must spell out lots of different terms and conditions that pertain to assets, debt, child support, spousal support, a parenting schedule. The list goes on and on.

My clients are tasked with also considering the feasibility of their agreement. While it’s not required that their agreements, to pass muster with the judge, be feasible, it seems like a recipe for failure for their agreements to have terms and conditions that are not going to happen without a great deal of struggle.

For example, a couple might want to have 50/50 physical custody, but if one of them travels three out of fours weeks overseas for business, that’s simply not feasible.

If you or someone you know is considering divorce and want to ensure that the agreement, in the end, is fair and equitable and feasible, please reach out to Jenna Brownson, Esq. for a free 30-minute consultation at 978.760.0482.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Most of the people I work with have never gone through a divorce. Every single person I work with knows at least one “horror story” of a divorce. Whether this knowledge comes from a movie or TV portrayal of divorce or from someone personally known, each and every one of my clients comes to the mediation room with some idea about divorce.

In most aspects of life, having some idea about something new can be helpful. When it comes to divorce, it has been my experience that familiarity with the process is beneficial, familiarity with “what happened when my best friend got divorced” is not.

Take a moment to consider what marriage means. It is the legal union of two people that is recognized by the state and one’s community. But now consider what a marriage looks like. As we are each unique, each partnership will also be unique. One can safely state, “Yes, you are married, and I am married, but my marriage looks different from your marriage.” And each person can easily account for those differences by resting on the knowledge that marriages are as different as the people in them.

Take a moment to consider what divorce means. It is the legal severing of a union of two people that is recognized by the state and one’s community. When it comes to divorce, a result that statistically will occur in half of those who choose to marry, we seem to be less willing to embrace the uniqueness of the divorce itself and wrongfully conclude that it’ll look like someone else’s divorce.

Let me assure you that YOUR divorce will NOT look like anyone else’s if you choose mediation.

Why? Because your choice to mediate your divorce opens up the opportunity to be thoughtful and creative in the necessary decision-making that will attend your process. And this is the great gift of mediation: mediation honors the uniqueness of the two people moving from unhappily married to civilly divorced in a manner that they create together that respects both the unique aspects of the marriage and the special process of coming to terms with each other in the construction of their Separation Agreement.

If you are considering divorcing, please reach out to Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482

How a Judge Weighs a Divorce Case

As a divorce mediator, my role is to facilitate discussions between the two people seeking a divorce in order to come up with the terms and conditions that will be reduced to writing in the couple’s Separation Agreement. Although I am an attorney, when I am facilitating mediation sessions, I am prohibited from giving legal advice. I can, and I do, provide my clients with a great deal of legal information. The most salient bit of legal information I share is this: The judge needs to find, as a matter of law, that your Separation Agreement, is fair and equitable. That’s it: fair and equitable.

So what does “fair and equitable” mean?

Now, I’m going to answer as a lawyer does: It depends.

“Fair and equitable” depend on the specifics unique to the two people divorcing and to the specifics of the marriage itself. “Fair and equitable” serve as a standard for the very personal choices about assets and children that the divorcing couple will make AND the standard by which the judge will assess the merits of the Separation Agreements that end up in the pile of cases on the judge’s docket.

So while Lady Justice wears a blindfold–a symbol that supports the aspirational ideology that all persons are treated equally under the law–this does not mean that she treats every matter blindly. The guiding principle on which a family and probate judge uses to decide whether to grant a divorce is “fair and equitable,” and this is the guiding principle my clients are reminded of.

If you are considering divorce, please reach out to Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482

Staring Out into the Unknown Future

When clients are mediating their divorce with me, they frequently ask themselves, “What’s that going to look like?” This question attaches to all sorts of inquiries and is almost always answered by them with the unsatisfactory “hard to say.”

Here’s an example:

In devising a parenting plan, the divorcing couple is charged with coming up with both a Regular Parenting Schedule (RPS) and a supplementary schedule that covers all those occasions that fall outside of the RPS, i.e., holidays, school vacations, birthdays, summer. This is no easy task.

Why? Because in trying to decide where the children are going to spend their time (with just one parent) in the future, the couple must visualize something that has never before happened in their children’s lives. As I work with these brave parents, I see the anguish on their faces as they “divvy up” the holidays and set down specific times for pick-ups and drop-offs.

And there’s no way to say–for sure–how it will look until the plan is put into practice. And this can be daunting.

People going through divorce mediation are staring out into an unknown future. This is something I’ve developed a sensitivity toward through the years of working with couples. It is something I regard and respect.

If you are considering divorce, please reach out to me: Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482 or jenna@holisticmediation.org

Envisioning the Future

One of the most difficult aspects of divorcing is trying to get a sense for what the future might look like. During divorce mediation sessions, the couple works through their shared and/or individual finances. They have to: one of the required documents, which both people need to complete and submit to the Court, is a Financial Statement. Although the completion of this form is tedious and time-consuming, it can also serve as a perfect opportunity to look critically at the money coming in and the money going out. And having this information is critical when the divorcing couple begins to make decisions about the division of their marital assets and division of their marital debt.

I have always been a proponent of the notion that the more information you have, the better the decisions you can make. The Financial Statements ask for a lot of information, and therefore, there is the unique chance to make better decisions when all that financial information is gathered, recorded, and at the fingertips of the people who will be directly affected by the choices they make.

It is true that a crystal ball might be helpful, but reasonable people know that there’s no real magic in that orb. Getting divorced well doesn’t rely upon wishes and guesses and fingers-crossed. Getting divorced well relies on compiling all relevant information so that fact-based choices can be made in order to create a fair and equitable agreement.

If you are considering divorcing, please contact Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482.

Reaching Across a Divide to Make a Start

One of the more challenging parts of getting divorced is knowing where to start. Sure, the married couple has come to a place where they both know that continuing in their marriage is not healthy for them or for their children, if they have any. And yes, they know that the process involves a judge saying that they are allowed to divorce. Sometimes, people think of lawyers, and when they do, they think of having to pay steep legal fees. Occasionally, custody and child support and alimony cross their minds.

But really, the most vexing matter is where to start?

When I’m first contacted by potential new clients, I assure them that mediation can get them just as divorced as battling it all out in court. I promise them that mediation is private in a way that litigating can never be. I all but guarantee that mediation will be much less expensive than hiring two lawyers. Then, once I confirm that both soon-to-be ex-spouses are willing to make a good faith effort to create the terms and conditions for their Separation Agreement (AKA: the Contract for the Dissolution of their Marriage), we get together, either in person or via Zoom.

That’s all that needs to happen to make a start: two people committing to a good faith effort.

If you are ready to make that commitment, please reach out. I’m here to lend a helping hand.

The Dissolving of an Identity

Going from husband or wife to ex-husband or ex-wife is a big deal. It is both the shedding of an identity and the adoption of a new one. It’s a new way of regarding oneself and a new way that one will be regarded by others.

In the process of divorcing, with all the forms and figures and negotiations acting as distractions, the shift in this relational identity can get lost. I believe that this is an oversight, a mistake, or even a tragic consequence of not looking holistically at the transformative process of divorce.

For people brave enough to divorce, it’s essential to recognize this transformation from spouse to ex-spouse and to consider what it means (to the individual who is divorcing and to the communities where the individual lives and works) to say “I’m married” and now to say “I’m divorced.” These are critically important reflections that often don’t happen during the divorcing process.

At Holistic Mediation, my clients don’t skip over this step. It’s too important. My clients have the space to consider the role of spouse and the unknown future mantra of “I’m divorced.” And I’m right there to consider it with them.

If you are interested in this holistic approach, please call Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482

The Bravest Choice

Over my many years mediating divorces, I’ve found that many of my clients arrive in my office just after sending their youngest off into the world. When I ask when their marriage became “irretrievably broken down,” a date required on the requisite court forms when filing for divorce, these empty-nesters often settle on a date years and years ago. And then, soon thereafter, they often concede that they “probably should have divorced long ago.”

Given all the horror stories of divorce portrayed in TV and movies, one might understand why putting off the inevitable is sometimes easier than making a brave decision to part ways when children are still residing at home.

Regardless of the timing, I believe (and I tell my clients) that their choice to divorce is the bravest of all decisions. To come to a place in one’s adult life where the decision has been made to end an unhappy marriage is profound. We live in a culture that honors marriage and makes a very big deal about bridal showers and bachelor parties and weddings. We have tax codes that endorse the financial benefit of marriage. We have an entire set of language that regards marriage as a special institution: tenants by the entirety, adultery, bastard, and espoused among other marriage-specific words and phrases.

When so much of our culture supports the institution of marriage, to choose to start a new chapter, which is really all about the hope that an unknown future may be better than a known present, is an endorsement that life is short and that continuing to live a life with someone who doesn’t bring out the best person in you is no longer wise.

I’m routinely humbled when working as a facilitator in this process, as it permits me to spend time with incredibly brave people. If you are ready to be brave in this way, please reach out. I’m here to help.

The Dreaded Financial Statement

There’s no getting around the fact that the Financial Statement is by far the most important document required by the Court. Everything flows from the information contained on each parties’ Financial Statement. Asset and debt division, child support and alimony: all of these amounts turn on the amounts entered on the Financial Statements.

And it is no easy task to complete these forms. Believe me when I say that my clients are routinely frustrated by the details required to complete these financial forms and always perplexed by why the Court demands such detail.

As we plod through the intricacies of each amount, my clients have the unique opportunity to carefully assess their income and expenses. For some, this exercise results in the very first time that many have looked at their financial position with such detail. This is a sobering moment for many.

As the mediation progresses, the clients’ Financial Statements are refined, clarified, and provide a touchstone for the various negotiations that the Court expects divorcing people to have.

So, yes, while beastly and unwieldy, the Financial Statement, despite how arduous it is, has always been something we get through together.