Sally wants to get divorced from Bill, but she has some concerns. The couple has a son together, Frankie, who has a learning disorder. Frankie is currently 12 years old, and Sally suspects he will need special tutoring services well into his late twenties to achieve his full potential in society. Sally consulted with a divorce lawyer, who told her that in Massachusetts, court-ordered child support typically ends no later than age 23, except in rare circumstances involving disabled children under guardianship. She wants to make sure that she and Bill share the costs of Frankie's tutoring and other special needs for as long as necessary, even if Frankie is living independently. What can she do?
Option 1. File a Complaint for Divorce
If Sally files a complaint for divorce, she sends a signal to Bill that she is prepared to take him to trial if necessary. She is basically saying, "If you don't give me what I need, I will ask the judge to order you to give it to me." But when it comes to Frankie, the judge can't give her what she needs. She has to convince Bill to do it voluntarily -- and when it comes down to it, despite their differences, Sally knows that Bill is a decent person who cares for Frankie. She wants to work together with Bill, not against him, to reach an agreement where they both will care for Frankie as needed. Although they will no longer be living together, they will still need to work together on coparenting Frankie.
Option 2. Divorce Mediation
Rather than file a complaint for divorce, Sally would be far better off talking with Bill about mediation. A mediator can facilitate discussion between the couple about issues surrounding their divorce -- including Frankie's special needs, along with financial issues, parenting schedules, and more -- and help them prepare a separation agreement they are both comfortable signing. The resulting agreement can include creative solutions to address Frankie's needs, far beyond what the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court has the authority to order. In addition, the mediation process can help foster a collaborative atmosphere that will serve them well as they coparent Frankie over the years.
Mediation is an empowering way of getting divorced. It lets the couple voice their concerns and work through their differences to craft a separation agreement that makes sense for both of them. The universe of possible divorce agreements that can come out of mediation is truly infinite, and not limited by the powers of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. (There are limits to what the court can approve, but those can generally be avoided through creative drafting.) For couples with children or other shared concerns that will survive the divorce, mediation can also protect the couple's ongoing relationship by making the process a collaborative one focused on problem-solving, rather than an adversarial one focused on each spouse taking opposing positions.
In situations involving domestic violence and other criminal matters, court intervention might be advisable. But in the vast majority of cases, even if the divorcing couple has serious differences that are forcing them apart, medication can provide a faster, less expensive, and more peaceful divorce in which each spouse participates fully in the process to address their mutual and individual concerns.