Our practice is devoted to family law. We support our clients in two ways.
- As a neutral: This is in all forms alternative dispute resolution including mediation, conciliation, case evaluation, and arbitration.
- Traditional client representation. We represent parties through negotiation and litigation and we also represent clients through the mediation process with other mediators.
Either way, there is a typical process in a divorce. We outline it below so you have an understanding of what to expect. Our client representation begins with the goal of a negotiated resolution as amicably as possible. If this is not possible then we continue through the court process.
Traditional client representation at Graff & Dawson
Your first step is to call the office and ask to speak to one of the attorneys. We will have a brief and substantive conversation with you at no charge. In this conversation, we give you the opportunity to ask enough questions to determine whether our firm seems to be a good fit for your needs. We also assess the level of urgency and help you formulate a plan. At this point, if you determine that we would be a good fit, we move forward.
If you wish to move forward with our firm, you will make an appointment to meet with an attorney in a timely fashion. At this meeting we give valuable advice, evaluate the case, answer the client’s questions, make recommendations on the approach, summarize possible outcomes of the case and discuss legal fees. Since it is a substantive meeting, we charge for our time.
We recognize that some other attorneys give free initial consultations but we do our preliminary discussion on the phone and a more in depth first client meeting. It is our goal through this meeting to empower you with knowledge about the process and the outcome. At the conclusion of this meeting, clients have reported that we have alleviated a large measure of their anxiety and given them an understanding about the divorce process.
Once we are formally retained, we formulate a plan that will protect the client and the children at the lowest financial and emotional cost. We always seek an uncontested case as that presents the lowest emotional and financial cost for all parties. If it is not possible, then we approach the case to minimize conflict and cost without compromising safety and the quality of the outcome. Our philosophy is to form a partnership with our clients to educate our clients and empower them in making informed decisions.
When a case is filed or served in court, Massachusetts law demands an automatic financial restraining order. We discuss the benefits of filing so that our clients make an informed decision whether to file the case or to work towards an uncontested divorce. Since filing may escalate tensions, on cases where we do file, we may choose to send a message to the other party that we want to work towards an uncontested divorce with the hopes that filing will not escalate the tension or conflict at this time.
Whether the decision is made to file or to wait until a later time, the “temporary process” is the same.
Make sure that the status quo is fair. This may include whether a party should move out of the marital home or whether the parties should remain together until certain issues are resolved.
Establish a temporary parenting plan and temporary support. It may also include ensuring the safety of assets. Sometimes parties can resolve this by agreement and sometimes they need court orders. Those court orders are called “temporary order”.
The next phase of a divorce is called “discovery”. The purpose is to obtain all the information we need to make an informed decision. Massachusetts law has some mandatory discovery and usually, supplemental information is required. During this process we may need experts to provide valuations of assets including real estate appraisals, business valuations, tangible property valuations and tax analyses of support options.
The final phase is “resolution” of the case. We always try to resolve cases by settlement. If we cannot, then we need the intervention of the court or a neutral. The first time we can have the judge’s significant input is at a pretrial conference that is scheduled to present disputed issues to the judge for his or her recommendations or suggestions for settlement. This may give the parties an idea of how the judge would rule if the case goes to trial or the suggestions may be new options for possible settlement.
Settlement occurs when the parties reach an agreement and prepare a written “Separation Agreement”. This Agreement is submitted to the Court for review and approval. The Court reviews this along with the parties’ financial statements. When the Court determines that the agreement is fair and reasonable, the divorce becomes final 90 days after the separation agreement is accepted by the court.
In the event that a negotiated settlement cannot be reached, then the case goes to “trial”.
Note: At any stage, the parties can sidestep the litigation and opt for ADR. If ADR is unsuccessful, they can then return to litigation.
At Graff & Dawson, we try to be creative in formulating a unique and appropriate process for all clients to maximize their outcome. By doing so, we provide individually tailored results for all clients and their individual needs.