Burning Through Your Money

Even though many consider mediation a more relaxed and informal way of resolving a conflict, one that could otherwise be litigated, that notion is a little fuzzy. People who use mediation as a tool for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) find many advantages to those who “lawyer up” and battle their divorce out in court.

One way that mediation is nearly always better than litigation is the lower cost. In almost every case, it is simply less costly to pay for a mediated settlement than it is to pay for a litigated result. In fact, I cannot think of even one instance where mediation was more expensive than litigation.

Let’s take for example one set of “facts” and cost compare:

A couple who have been married for eighteen years, two minor children, the marital home, two vehicles, retirement accounts for husband and wife, a significant inheritance coming from the wife’s side, one boat, and a small plot of lakefront property out of state.

Presume that the parties are amenable to a fair and reasonable settlement in a timely fashion.

If the parties choose to litigate the matter, they are likely to spend between $25,000.00 and $30,000.00. That figures two lawyers each working for between 30 and 40 hours on the matter and coming to settlement well before a trial. Keep in mind that the lawyers’ billable time included the hours sitting in the hallway of the courthouse waiting for the case to be called. In the event that the parties cannot come to a settlement, that $25,000.00 to $30,000.00, pre-trial estimate increases. Exponentially.

If instead, the parties were to choose to mediate the matter, they are likely to spend between $3,500.00 and $5,500.00. If you decide to work with Holistic Mediation, you’ll get the benefit of working through your objectives and goals in six and ten sessions, and all of the costs to draft the requisite paperwork for the court will cost far less than litigating.

When it comes to cost, a mediated agreement is better than a litigated result (nearly) 100% of the time. And I believe at Holistic Mediation that you should keep as much of your own money as possible 100% of the time.

Please contact me to see if mediation is worthwhile for you: Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482.

For Many, It’s the Most Difficult Time of the Year

Estrangement is on the rise. It is estimated that one in five American families experience a breakdown in relations that end in a drastic solution: cutting off all ties.

While it is true that most people don’t enter into total familial isolation over little, trifling matters; it is equally true that most people who have opted to “break up” with members of their family have made this choice because they have tried all other avenues. Estrangement is the offspring of desperation.

Although Holistic Mediation has been focused on divorce mediation for many, many years and very much still welcomes couples who have decided to go down separate paths and need some guidance along the way, Holistic Mediation is excited to add Family Reunification after Estrangement to its areas of practice.

Here’s how to determine if mediation in this area is something for you and your family:

Ask yourselves:

Are we all willing to attempt reunification?

Mediation can only work when everyone present at the mediation table is there in good faith. No one who feels forced to talk and reunify will be invested in the solution.

Why do I (we) wish to reunify?

With a specific purpose in mind, your conversations can be targeted toward a specific and/or special goal. Some find that attempting reunification works best when the pressure of the holidays are lifted. Others find the holiday season a perfect motivation to start mediation.

Where should we try to discuss reunification?

Really anywhere, but it’s essential that your conversations happen in a neutral place, and the quiet space offered by Holistic Mediation is here for you.

If you and your family want the guidance of a mediator who will facilitate your conversations and then draft for you (if you wish) a memorandum of understanding–a sort of agreement that defines how your relationship will move forward in the best interests of all family members–please reach out.

Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482 or jenna@holisticmediation.org

When the Walls Come Tumbling Down

Pile of concrete in front of partially demolished house. Focus on foreground.

We are accustomed to life going along at a fairly predictable and generally manageable pace. We stick to routines, we have appointments, we meet expectations, we go day to day with some justifiable confidence about how life will unfold.

And then, something flips, and the foundation we’ve been standing on is gone.

For people who find themselves questioning their unhappy, sometimes painful marriages, the feeling that their world is out of control can go from a barely audible hum to a deafening scream. The volume is controlled by the level of crisis in any one moment. The stress and anxiety caused by this “place in life” is soul-depleting, sometimes leading people to turn away from the crisis.

When the day finally arrives that the unhappy person can verbalize a need for a change, that’s when the practical work might begin. The couple has choices: stay unhappy, find a way to foster happiness, go in separate directions and seek independent happiness.

(Side note: “Happy” and its derivatives are very broad terms used in a general way.)

At Holistic Mediation, I believe that you can be in control of your life. No one is more skilled in making thoughtful and proper decisions about your life than you are. Imagine how empowered you can feel when you make a choice about your life, rather than a stranger in a long black robe who was given information through “translators,” i.e., lawyers.

Mediation honors your autonomy.

Mediation welcomes your insights.

Mediation respects your decisions.

My role as your mediator is to facilitate your client-led negotiations and then draft your collaborated agreement. I know that peacemaking can prevail. Civility can be found even in the most emotional and challenging arena.

Please contact Jenna Brownson at 978.760.0482 to begin the process.

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.