Alternative Dispute Resolution

Negotiated agreements or mediated settlements can be more flexible and creative than through the court process.  In cases where the spouses are able to negotiate, there are a number of options for resolving disputed issues.  Finalizing a divorce this way can minimize the feeling that someone lost or won and it usually take less time and money.   In addition, it may encourage modifications or future disputes to be resolved without litigation. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Lisa J. Graff serve as alternative dispute resolution experts by serving as mediators, conciliators, arbitrators, and case evaluators.  The cases can be resolved in full or in part by alternative resolution.  Issues can include:

  • Terms governing child custody
  • Terms governing visitation
  • Other aspects of parenting plans including communication, dispute resolution, and modifications
  • Parenting coordinator
  • Alimony/maintenance /unallocated support payments
  • Child support
  • Expense sharing for children
  • Modifications of prior orders
  • Enforcement of existing orders
  • Health insurance
  • Tax considerations
  • Educational plans for the children
  • Disposition of the marital residence
  • Division of property
  • Division of debt
  • Financial separation and considerations
  • Division of pension benefits and other retirement assets
  • Abuse prevention
  • Pet visitation
  • Asset valuation
  • Trusts and family money/inheritance
  • Tangible personal property
  • Attorney fees

Throughout our representation of our clients, we remain mindful of the cost of our work and  balance that against the potential benefit we are seeking.  Our goal is to get our clients the best deal possible at a reasonable cost.  What is reasonable is measured against the value of the issue in dispute.  For example, we would not advise going to trial over the division of household items with nominal financial value. Instead, we would encourage parties to resolve an issue like that, on their own, without incurring significant legal fees.  Often, we  remind clients that these  items can be replaced  for a fraction of the cost  through websites such as Craigslist and e-bay.  On the other hand, if the process seems unfair and a negotiation imbalance needs to be rectified, we will certainly offer advice and step in when  needed.

This concept is also present in disputes about parenting schedules when the cost of the dispute is not just limited to legal fees but could include harmful stress on the children.  We are willing to fight to protect our client’s children.  We encourage our clients to consider the effect of a fight on the children  and balance that against the value of winning a particular issue.

Different forms of alternative dispute resolution include:

  • Mediation – Facilitated meeting between the parties to come to an agreement.
  • Arbitration – Parties agree to be bound by the decision of the third party.
  • Conciliation – Individual meetings with each party and a third party who attempts to negotiate a settlement.
  • Case Evaluation – An independent evaluation of the merits of the case and suggestions for resolution.

Mediation

Mediation offers clients who are willing to sit down face-to-face with their spouses to create a fair and legal settlement.  A mediator helps the parties understand the laws governing distribution of marital assets and custody or visitation issues.  In addition, mediation can quickly identify the disputed issues and facilitate negotiated settlement without the upset and significant costs associated with court action.  We have mediated in many situations so that the parties reached an informed agreement based on full and fair disclosure and reasonable agreement.

In an amicable situation, one in which the clients are willing to listen and negotiate fairly, our mediation skills and experience serve clients well.  Mediation is less confrontational and provides a safe setting for both parties to voice their concerns and interests with an experienced third party that can suggest options and keep the agreement within reasonable legal limits.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Lisa J. Graff are experienced mediators.  We bring over 20+ years of experience as family law attorneys to our role as knowledgeable, neutral, and thoughtful mediators.  We begin the process by designing the process to meet the parties’ needs.  We work hard to ensure that the process is fair and balanced.  We can be flexible to employ orthodox mediation or sidestep to include conciliation and evaluation of issues when the parties desire and recognize that we are amending our role to meet this request.

We enjoy serving clients in this neutral role.  It is professionally and personally fulfilling and we enjoy helping and supporting families in solving their problems together, so they may have the understanding of how to solve future problems without the need for costly professional intervention.

Arbitration

Arbitration is another form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) outside the courts. Essentially, it is private judging where the parties agree to be bound to the decision of the arbitrator.  After the arbitrator reviews the case and makes a decision, it is legally binding for both sides.  In extreme circumstances the decision can be subject to a court overturning the decision but this is rare.  People choose this when they want to select a particular individual in lieu of the judge assigned or to avoid the public nature of domestic relations cases.  Arbitration is private and typically costs less than litigation.  Although the parties need to pay the arbitrator for his or her time, the parties and the arbitrator can design a streamlined and efficient process appropriate for the particular parties in each case.

Arbitration can be either voluntary or mandatory and can be either binding or non-binding. Non-binding arbitration is similar to mediation. The difference is that the mediator will try to help the parties find a compromise without advising the parties.  Whereas an arbitrator remains removed from the negotiations and is brought in to make a decision (“private judge”).

In some cases, the parties are able to resolve most issues but cannot resolve smaller, discrete issues in their cases.  For example, parties could resolve all issues except the division of their house contents.  Their separation agreement might read that the parties shall use their best reasonable efforts to resolve this issue employing certain principles.  Absent any agreement within 30 days, they shall then submit the issue to binding arbitration and share the cost equally. This is an opportune time to use the arbitration process.

Attorney Graff is trained and certified by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers as a family law arbitrator.  She has been chosen through mutual agreement, by domestic relations attorneys representing parties in litigation, to arbitrate a number of issues within a domestic relations matter.  Her style is to first help the parties resolve the issue by agreement without spending too much time, money, or energy on that process. If they cannot resolve the issue , she will proceed with arbitration.  With Attorney Graff’s guidance, the parties fashion the process to be as formal or informal as they would like but always impartial and fair.  Typically, the process does not have the level of formality the court uses and will be far more efficient.  Once each party has the opportunity to present their case, Attorney Graff will make a decision.  Her style is to actively listen to both sides, take them into consideration and then make a decision.  Even if everyone does not like the outcome, both parties  walk away feeling heard, understood, and believing that the process was fair.

Conciliation

Conciliation is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process where the parties agree to utilize the services of a conciliator who meets with the parties and their attorneys (if they are represented) and give them advice about a fair resolution of the case.  Conciliation differs from mediation in that the conciliator gives an opinion about a fair outcome whereas a mediator refrains from offering his or her own opinion.

Attorney Graff has served as a conciliator for numerous cases, sometimes appointed after court referral and sometimes selected by the parties privately.  She has been successful in helping parties and their lawyers find common ground. Her style is to create a process that is flexible and designed to ensure fairness and success.  She typically meets with both parties and their lawyers together.  Occasionally, with the agreement of all participants, she will meet separately with the individuals if the parties involved think it will be more productive.  Meeting separately may lower tension, improve communication, interpret disagreements on issues, provide and explore alternative solutions and bring about a negotiated settlement.  Sometimes parties want to tell their story without the other side present and that can be helpful.  When such a process does not breed distrust about what the other party will say when they are not in the room, we find this a reasonable option.

Case Evaluation

Parties and lawyers may engage us to evaluate a case and advise them in a neutral fashion about a likely outcome from the court and offer suggestions for fair resolutions of the disputed issue.  We can either work as a neutral for both parties or we can help give a second opinion to a party and/or their attorney for a different perspective on the case.

As a seasoned family law attorney with over 20 years of experience, Attorney Graff is frequently contacted by attorneys and parties for advice and evaluation of their cases.  She offers an objective, new look at the case and a creative approach to resolution.

Contact the Law Offices of Lisa J. Graff for a confidential consultation. We’re located in Sudbury, Metro West Boston, Massachusetts and service the following counties: Middlesex, Worcester, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Plymouth and Bristol Counties.