I think there are many people who want to believe in unicorns. Some of them live with me. These mythical creatures seem to have a friendly disposition. Most unicorns seem to appreciate rainbows and sparkly colors, and I've never read about a unicorn rampage or other disturbing unicorn behavior.
So why would a Walpole divorce mediator and divorce lawyer write about unicorns? Please allow me to explain. Unicorns are like an uncontested divorce in my opinion. Uncontested divorce sound good, but I have never actually run into one in a strict sense. Some people will call our Medfield office and inquire about how much we charge for an uncontested divorce, because the caller and his or her spouse “AGREE ON EVERYTHING.”
Sure you do, I think to myself.
I'll have my 25th wedding anniversary next year, but do my wife and I agree on everything? Of course not. I've learned that I should probably just go with her opinion when we disagree, because it usually turns out to be correct in the long run. I really hope she isn't reading this.
Understandably, people want to believe that their situation is simple, and that both sides will agree on all of the issues after a couple of conversations about the kids and stuff at the kitchen table. Sometimes, the same caller will ask if I can represent both of them “…because, you know, we just need the documents drawn up. How much is that going to cost again?”
Just to be perfectly clear, a Massachusetts divorce lawyer may NOT represent both parties to a divorce. If a lawyer tells you otherwise, you should probably just run away.
So what is the problem with uncontested divorces? Am I encouraging people to battle things out in court? Absolutely not. My problem with the elusive uncontested divorce is that I'm fairly sure they don't exist in a strict sense, just like unicorns. When spouses think they agree on everything, I've learned this means that they didn't talk about all of the issues in enough detail. I've yet to be involved in a truly uncontested divorce.
For example, imagine a well-intentioned statement by Mary, our fictional wife. “My husband and I agree on the house. We discussed that I will stay in the house with the kids until the end of the school year in 2015. He is going to pay the mortgage instead of child support and get an apartment until we sell the house.”
In this situation, an experienced divorce mediator or lawyer might then ask a series of follow-up questions, including:
- Who is going to pay the property taxes?
- What if there is a repair or maintenance expense, especially a costly one?
- If Mary never mowed the lawn, who is going to do that?
- Did you say you want your boyfriend to move in next month?
- Will finances actually support the mortgage and expenses, along with an apartment large enough for the kids when with Dad?
I could go on. The point is that many couples have not talked about the minutiae that forms the basis of a well-drafted divorce agreement. As details come up, it turns out that the couple does not agree on everything after all! This isn't really shocking – if people agreed on everything there might not be a divorce in the first place perhaps.
What is this couple to do? Perhaps budgets are tight, or they want to keep things calm and respectful. Is hiring just one Massachusetts divorce lawyer to represent one side and draft the documents a good idea? Could this arrangement make the other person feel as though he or she is at a disadvantage?
A good solution is readily available. The couple should retain the services of a divorce mediator that is also a lawyer. The couple will benefit by working through the divorce with the assistance of a neutral professional – saving time, legal fees, and headaches. The mediator will provide structure, information about the law and make sure important issues are covered, then draft the necessary court documents. Because the couple is hiring one mediator instead of two divorce attorneys, and working more cooperatively from the start, the savings in fees is significant. Remember, mediation can even be effective for couples that have not agreed on much at all. I've had good success with many higher-conflict spouses in divorce mediation.
Thus, if you think you have an uncontested divorce, then you may or may not believe in unicorns. Instead of finding out half-way through your “uncontested” divorce that you and your spouse don't agree on a number of important topics, contact a skilled Walpole divorce mediator for help navigating through your divorce in a supportive environment.
Stephen McDonough is a divorce mediator and divorce lawyer serving clients throughout Norfolk County and beyond, including Walpole, Medfield, Westwood, Dedham, Canton, Natick, Dover, Sherborn, Millis, Franklin, and Medway. He is the owner of Next Phase Legal LLC of Medfield, MA. For more information about divorce mediation, family law, or the firm's other practice areas, please call (508) 359-4043.