Mediating Alimony in Divorce Cases

Under certain circumstances in Massachusetts, an ex-spouse can be required to make regular payments to their former partner. This is best known as alimony, or “maintenance.”

divorce mediationMediation can be useful for resolving alimony issues, both in the initial divorce, or if one or both parties seek to modify the maintenance obligation. Because the issue of alimony is financial in nature, compromise may be possible, and mediation can avoid expending substantial sums on litigation. Many studies have found that mediation enables the parties to reach a settlement more expeditiously than litigation, save money by avoiding unnecessary litigation costs, and increase compliance with agreements.

Mediation Benefits

Mediation is voluntary, and so the parties must both agree on the reach of the ultimate agreement before it takes effect. This is beneficial, because parties are more likely to comply with alimony obligations if they have agreed to the amounts at issue. Also, the parties may be more likely to believe that an agreement is fair if they enter into it willingly.

With mediation, the parties work with a mediator, who is a neutral third party, to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The mediator should be knowledgeable about the provisions of Massachusetts divorce law, including those provisions involving the alimony. Under state law, the court may grant either temporary or permanent maintenance for either a husband or a wife, and for the length of time that the court deems just, without any consideration of marital misconduct, after considering all relevant factors. Some of the common considerations when deciding on alimony include:

  • Each party’s income and property, including non-marital property assigned to the party seeking maintenance;
  • Each party’s needs;
  • Each party’s present and future earning capacity;
  • Whether a party lost present or future earning capacity due to the time devoted to care giving responsibilities, or having foregone or deferred education, training, employment, or other career opportunities because of the marriage;
  • The time needed to enable a party seeking maintenance to acquire education, training, and employment;
  • Whether caregiving responsibilities for a child make it appropriate for a parent to stay home and not seek employment;
  • The parties’ standard of living during the marriage;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The parties’ ages and their physical and emotional health;
  • The tax consequences of the parties’ property division;
  • The contributions, if any, to the education or career or career potential of the other spouse by the spouse seeking maintenance;
  • Any valid agreement of the parties; and
  • Any other factor the court expressly finds just and equitable.

Because the terms of the marital settlement agreement, apart from obligations regarding children, are binding on the parties, unless the court determines that the agreement is unconscionable, it is useful to obtain independent legal advice before signing the ultimate agreement. Further, the parties will need to make truthful and full disclosure of their income and assets, as providing false information and failing to disclose assets can be grounds for finding that the marital agreement is unconscionable.

If you are divorcing in Massachusetts and could benefit from mediation, please take a moment to contact our family law firm at the Law Office of Martin Murphy.

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

A New Year and a New Perspective

In just about every divorce mediation I have worked on, there always seems to be a final struggle or conflict at the very end of the process. Often this struggle results in a burst of energy that can be filled with anger, frustration, or sadness.

The subject matters of these conflicts can vary from significant and important topics like parenting time or support, or they can involve more mundane issues like salt and pepper shakers or other minor pieces of personal property. Often these conflicts arise over topics that have been settled and agreed to in principal.

I’ve come to realize that in the vast majority of cases, these final conflicts are often less about the topic of support or kitchen items and more about a final release of energy to express that anger, frustration or sadness. I often have thought that these releases remind me of the final breath I watched a family member take in the last moments of life. I’ve struggled with this visualization as I have tried to normalize these experiences for my clients and help them find a way through this last struggle.

Over the holidays, I was thinking about this topic and by chance a program was on in the background that was dealing with the birth of a new baby. As the baby was born it didn’t appear to be breathing, but after a brief smack on the backside, the baby gasped for a new breath of air. It hit me at that moment that the visualization I was struggling with can really be seen in an entirely new light.

Rather than looking at the final struggle in a mediation as an end, it may well be looked at like a beginning. In most cases, the clients have set about or planned for their new lives, and to them the final parts of the divorce process seem a simple formality. They are in many ways ready to take a breath of fresh air in their new lives. I know as I head into this New Year, I am grateful for a new perspective.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com

It’s All About the Kids

I was cleaning up “that pile” on my desk this morning. You know ”that pile”- old notes from conferences, industry magazines with articles you meant to get to, old “to do” lists. Anyhow, I found an Ask Amy column from December of 2011 that I had cut out of the paper.

The column addresses the letter of a teenage girl who was sad, anxious and worried about all the fighting her parents were doing. She was seeking advice on what she should do.

Amy responds by saying that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it leads to a resolution. She also suggested the young girl approach her parents at a quieter moment and share her feelings of anxiousness and sadness.

I wonder how it turned out for that young woman and her family.

As a collaborative attorney and mediator, I often get to witness the interplay of a couple in conflict and the children of the marriage. When an emphasis is placed on protecting the children, as it is in mediation and collaborative practice, the new reconstituted family often benefits.

Despite the many disagreements my clients have, they almost all indicate a high level of desire to minimize the impact on the children of the marriage. That common goal often serves as the linchpin to build the rest of a sustained agreement.

When there are disagreements as to how best achieve that joint goal, there are a tremendous variety of resources available to families including child specialists, therapists and parenting classes. When those resources are properly marshaled for a family, they can provide a structure and support system to help the children of divorce for many years to come.

While I will most likely never find out how the family in the column made out, I do know that my clients that have made the process choice of mediation or collaborative law have a much better chance of helping their children move through the divorce more successfully.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com

A New Pope and an Old Prayer

I had the opportunity this week to attend a presentation by Dan Finn, a gifted Collaborative Attorney. Dan spoke on the topic of “Understanding Impasse: Preventions and Interventions.”  A theme of the presentation was that in order to separate effectively, couples or parties to a dispute really need to become connected.

While that concept may seem odd, without some connection on some level, people who are in dispute will find it impossible to work out an agreement. Mediators and Collaborative Attorneys assist their clients in staying “connected with the other party” to assist them in reaching an agreement that is in their best interests. Talented Mediators and Collaborative Attorneys have many tools in their toolkits that can assist their clients even in cases where there is a very high level of disconnect with the other party.

My thanks to Dan for a great presentation.

On another note, Catholics around the world celebrated this week as they learned of their new pope. I thought that his choice of name, Francis, was significant. The prayer of St. Francis, which is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi from the 13th century, even with the religious portions removed, provides an inspiration for those seeking resolution.

. . . make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
. . . ,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned…

If we could implement even a portion of this prayer as we approach conflict, I think that we would find enough connection with the other party to resolve the dispute in a way that is beneficial to all.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com

Oscar Time – Are you a Winner or a Loser?

Over the past few months, this theme has been going through my mind. Obama won the election but gets to head back to Washington to deal with a deadlocked Congress. The Patriots made it to the AFC championship only to watch the Ravens roll to the Superbowl. Recently, various actors, actresses and other Hollywood types have jumped, walked and tripped on their way up to the stage to collect awards that must have seemed just beyond the grasp of those nominees still sitting in the audience.

Winning and losing. It happens everyday. Only with time however does one truly understand the success or failure of their quest. Like countless financially broke lottery winners, many find there are ultimate costs associated with the attempt to win. In time, many losers gain the perspective that what they sought wasn’t really worth the cost.

Those experiences often ring true when it comes to a family going through a divorce. Our legal system is still dominated by the framework of winning and losing. That framework can be devastating to a family going through transition. Even in a situation where a wrong has been done, the ultimate cost of “winning” often leaves the victor feeling like they have lost.

Options to the standard approach are available. Mediation and Collaborative Law provide clients with the opportunity to resolve their dispute while maximizing their opportunity to reach as many of their positive goals as possible.

Divorce is unlike running for public office, playing in a championship game, or waiting to be called on stage for an award. Most people don’t grow up looking forward to the opportunity to go through a divorce. Why not choose a process that will be more likely to provide you with a long-term sense of success?

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com

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Mediation and Collaborative Law are Cost Effective




Wonder at the Possibilities

Those of you who have gotten to know me know that I am a big Red Sox fan and that my passion for the Sox has been passed on to my now teenage son. Over the years we have shared many great moments together around the baseball diamond. One moment I will never forget occurred as the Fenway Park groundskeeping crew was preparing for a rain delay. I brought my then 8 year old over to “canvas alley” to watch the crew cover the field. As I explained the job, he looked up at me in amazement. “You mean they actually get paid to work at Fenway Park?” His little mind couldn’t comprehend that people would not want to volunteer at Fenway Park for free every day.

When I recall this learning moment for my son, I know that it is also a reminder for me. When you are lucky enough to do something each day that you feel passionately about, it transforms from simply being work, to being something that can engage you and amaze you. I am truly grateful for the opportunity I have to help my clients each and every day. I recommit to doing all that I can to maintain “the beginner’s mind,” and wonder at the possibilities. Happy New Year.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com

Resolve to Finish by Beginning Again

For those considering divorce, this “merry” season can be fraught with stresses that lead to arguments, frustrations, and a sense of hopelessness. If you have been overcome by the stress of the season, I simply suggest that you take a few moments to reflect back on the moment you decided you were ready for a new start. This isn’t the moment you were filled with anger, frustration or anxiety, but the moment of clarity when you knew without question it was time to move on.

Suzuki Roshi was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher, and is credited with saying “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Approaching the obstacles of the season with the “beginner’s mind” will help you develop more potential options for their resolution. New traditions can be crafted, and families can be reshaped. Disagreements can be sorted out, and life can move on in a new direction. Mediation and Collaborative Law are processes that can help you stay focused on the ultimate goal rather than give in to the distractions and frustrations foisted upon us.

As the calendar turns to the New Year, resolve to finish the process already begun by focusing on that moment of clarity that truly began you on this journey. I wish you the very best in the New Year.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com

The Right Parenting Plan

The kids heading off on a Disney cruise through the Bahamas with one parent may seem completely reasonable, but how about the other parent wanting to visit relatives with the kids…. in Somalia?

International travel is one of the many areas in a parenting plan where parents have to be particularly thoughtful and considerate of the future. Parents headed through a divorce might want to consider this and other important issues.

Drop Off Duty
Which parent is responsible for dropping off the kids? What happens when the kids are intentionally running late? One way to avoid the “waiting in the driveway” syndrome is to have the parent with the kids be responsible for delivering them to the other parent.

Time Off vs. Time With
In today’s economy with both parents usually working, the primary or custodial parent is often looking for some “time off.” Making sure the other parent lives up to his or her allotted time allows for the custodial parent to rest and recharge their batteries.

Sick Days, Doctors’ Appointments and No Power Days
Providing for “surprise days” and scheduled doctors’ appointments will make for a better parenting plan.

She’s a Teenager!
Preparing a flexible parenting plan that allows for the needs of a sociable teenager is wise. At the same time, it is equally important that the parents try to have a consistent voice about what is permitted behavior and what is not!

Family Traditions
If your spouse’s family has a tradition of spending the 4th of July with multi-generations in New Hampshire, are you sure you want to demand alternating all such holidays? At the same time, divorce can be all about starting new traditions with your kids. Finding the best parenting plan for your family is an important part of the divorce process.

Mediation and Collaborative Law can provide you with the best opportunity to come up with the best plan for your family. If you have any questions on finding the right parenting plan, please contact my office for a free process presentation.

Martin Murphy, Esq. is a collaborative attorney and seasoned mediator. He is dedicated to using the principles and benefits of mediation and collaborative law in the general representation of businesses, their owners and in helping families facing divorce, child custody and other family law issues. The Law Office of Martin Murphy, LLC located in Norwood MA, serves clients in the surrounding communities including Attleboro, Canton, Foxboro, Franklin, Mansfield, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleboro, Plainville, Sharon, Walpole, Westwood, and Wrentham., Marty can be reached at marty@martinmurphyatlaw.com