Like every other aspect of our practice, Family Law is changing. Once, the term was merely a polite way to say “divorce.” Now, it encompasses a wide variety of legal matters. We have provided information about some of the most common types of Family Law cases. We could have included many others. For example, many probate disputes involve family disputes as intense as those found in a contested divorce case.
Those lawyers who devote their practice to Family Law issues must have a unique and wide-ranging set of skills. Assisting clients in negotiating a parenting plan may require extraordinary skill and patience. A contested divorce inevitably involves an ability to work in a high conflict atmosphere. One of the advantages of having a number of family lawyers is that we can assign a case to the attorney who is best suited to that particular area of the law.
Ultimately, the choice of a family lawyer is a highly personal matter. (There’s no substitute for making an appointment and taking the time to get to know us and our capabilities.)
We have more attorneys practicing family law than any other firm in Middlesex County. These lawyers have well over 100 years of combined experience in this area of the law. Our practice was built almost entirely by referrals from former clients and referrals from professional colleagues.
We know that from your perspective, there is only one divorce case that counts. Our lawyers will give your matter the time and attention that you deserve. We cannot predict what the exact result will be in your matter, but we can give you the general contours of a likely settlement or verdict.
We are well aware that divorce clients come to us at a time of extreme personal stress. We'll do all we can to lessen that feeling. We'll explain the rather complex divorce process carefully. We'll keep you advised of all developments. We are confident in the worth of our legal advice, but you will retain ultimate control over your case.
Hiring a divorce attorney is a major decision. If you know anyone who has used our services in a divorce case, ask about their experience. We would be happy to meet with you, discuss your case, and provide you with the information you need to decide if one of our attorneys is the right lawyer for you.
Mediation is a process by which a neutral person (the mediator) helps parties to a dispute explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Most of our mediations involve family law issues, but we also handle mediations of many other types of legal matters.
The idea of helping litigants resolve their dispute is no simple task. The issues being discussed may be highly emotional, but we ensure that the process takes place in an atmosphere of respect and dignity. The process is entirely voluntary, and parties are never pressured in any way.
The great majority of our mediations result in a negotiated agreement. Obviously, this often involves compromise by the parties. A skilled mediator adds other elements to the process. He or she may help the parties explore new options. The parties may learn how others dealing with the same issue have resolved their differences. Our mediators are trained in the techniques most likely to achieve a positive outcome.
Parties who can resolve their differences on a voluntary basis derive substantial benefits. The considerable costs of court action can be avoided. In many instances, particularly family cases, the parties will have future dealings. Mediation spares them the acrimony often associated with disputes of this type. Parties who can resolve their case avoid the uncertainty inherent in a trial. Finally, the parties in a mediation can tailor their agreement to their specific needs in a way that simply cannot be accomplished by a judge who has never met them.
Susan Geenty and Howard Gould are the two primary mediators in our firm.
Please note the “C” in Collaborative Divorce is capitalized. That’s because the term denotes something far more specific than the notion that lawyers should be cooperative with one another. Collaborative Divorce is a separate and distinct approach to matrimonial cases. Among the unique features are the following:
A commitment to resolve matters through negotiation. The parties agree not to file court motions while the collaborative process is under way.
A promise to work together in the exchange of information necessary in the divorce process. For example, in a traditional case, each party might obtain an expert appraisal of an asset. In a collaborative case, they would share the cost of a single appraisal.
(A belief that the issues in a divorce case are not battles to be won, but problems to be solved.) Each party has important and valid interests at stake. By working together, these concerns can be addressed in a manner which simply is not possible in a contested case.
Susan Geenty is our primary Collaborative lawyer. She has substantial training and experience in this area and belongs to a number of groups committed to the Collaborative process.
Post Judgment Modification and Contempt
At FGSB, a surprising portion of our family practice is devoted to post judgment matters. This requires a bit of explanation. In most civil cases when a judgment is entered and there is no appeal, the judgment is final. If, for example, a person is awarded $100,000, the Defendant cannot come back to court a year later claiming "that's too much."
Family law is different. Permanent rulings may not be possible at the time of trial. For example, a party who is ordered to pay child support may lose his or her job, making the continuation of payments at that level unreasonable. A plan of visitation may become unrealistic as the children age. For this reason, some--but not all--aspects of a divorce decree can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances.
Modification proceedings vary widely. Some can be handled at a single court session. Others can be exceedingly complex. For example, a custodial parent may seek to relocate with the minor children to a new state. A matter such as this may result in a multi-day trial.
There are other types of post judgment proceedings. A family court has the power to enforce a willful violation of its orders by means of a contempt order. This is a serious matter, as the potential penalty is incarceration.
We have at least four lawyers who handle post judgment matters. Give us a call and we'll direct you to the attorney best suited to handle your particular circumstances.
Family Law in Probate Courts
Most of us are aware that the Probate Court administers the estates of those who have died. What is less well known is the important role played by these Courts in certain lifetime concerns. These are mostly family matters involving questions such as whether an impaired person should live at home or who will have guardianship of a minor child.
In exercising its authority in these areas, the Probate Court operates as a second legal system, independent from the Superior Court, where most family cases are brought. Probate Courts have their own rules of procedure and rules of evidence. If you have family interests at stake in a Probate case, it’s important that you represent your interests effectively.
We have a number of lawyers experienced in this area, and we’ll be happy to pair you with the attorney who can best handle your case.
What is more important than the parent/child relationship? Disputes of this type often arise as a result of divorce, or post-divorce situations. There are also other circumstances not related to divorce that can generate a custody case. Whatever the origin, a custody case is a matter of the highest priority.
Many clients see a custody dispute as a referendum on their parenting abilities. To a limited extent, this is true. If, for example, one parent has a significant issue with alcohol or drugs, that certainly impacts on the outcome of a custody case. At its core, however, a custody case deals with the child's best interests. Those interests may be
affected by factors having nothing to do with the conduct of the parents.
Modem judges are aware of the difficulty involved in deciding custody ofa child who they likely have never met. Attorneys are expected to offer the evidence and other input needed to make an appropriate decision. At FGSB we work with psychologists, social workers, school officials, and others who may offer valuable insight. Most custody cases involve the appointment of guardians or attorneys for the minor children. Not only are we familiar with those roles--our attorneys frequently serve as GALs or AMCs.
The time, complexity and costs of a fully litigated custody case are substantial. Make no mistake--we will do what is needed to protect your interests and those of your child(ren). We will also explore any possibility of settlement which may be available, using all the resources mentioned above.