BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Mediation and collaborative law can make a difference for heterosexual and gay couples going through divorce

Dealing with divorceJust a few weeks ago on a chilly but gloriously sunlit January morning I attended the wedding of two dear friends at our local town hall. What made this particular wedding so unique is that the happy couple had been together for thirty-eight years before getting married. This was also the first marriage between two men to be performed in this small Massachusetts town.

The twenty of us who were present were deeply moved by this ceremony which honored almost forty years of devotion, commitment, and love between two life partners. Many other gay couples in Massachusetts have taken the same step since the Commonwealth legalized gay marriage: by conservative estimates, over 4,000 gay marriage certificates were issued in Massachusetts during 2004.

But just a few days ago I learned that another gay couple has regretfully chosen to end their months-old marriage. And others, too, have filed for divorce here in the Commonwealth.

These two very different cases illustrate what we know from experience: many marriages and relationships endure, but sadly they can also end in separation or divorce.

Divorce, a legal process, can easily become adversarial, and lead to increased stress and mental trauma. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are resources and options available for all couples, heterosexual and gay, for support throughout separation and divorce.

There are two processes in particular which can make a difference for couples going through a divorce: mediation and collaborative law.

Mediation provides a low-cost and confidential alternative to litigation. In mediation, a third party assists a divorcing couple have a constructive conversation about the issues they need to address as part of the process of obtaining a legal divorce. Those issues may include: division of assets and debts; spousal support; issues relating to children, including visitation and custody; and any issues that are unique to the relationship.

Mediation helps people talk through the issues that affect them and their families and reach agreements that are fair, workable, and make sense for them. Gay couples contemplating divorce may wish to think about working with a mediator who has experience with and is sensitive to issues affecting the gay community. The important thing is to find a mediator that you feel comfortable working with.

For information on mediation, visit or the web site for the Association for Conflict Resolution. Residents of Massachusetts may be interested in exploring the web site for the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation.

Collaborative law is another option available to divorcing couples, which can be used on its own or in conjunction with mediation.

According to the web site for the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council, the goal of collaborative law is “to protect the privacy and dignity of all involved”:

We acknowledge that the essence of “Collaborative Law” is the shared belief by participants that it is in the best interests of parties and their families in typical Family Law matters to commit themselves to avoiding litigation.We therefore adopt this conflict resolution process, which does not rely on a Court-imposed resolution, but relies on an atmosphere of honesty, cooperation, integrity and professionalism, geared toward ensuring the future well-being of the family.

Our goal is to eliminate the negative economic, social, and emotional consequences of protracted litigation to the participants and their families.

It requires the free and open exchange of information, and envisions working together with other experts, including psychologists, financial experts, and others, and sharing the recommendations and work product of those experts.

For more information about collaborative law, you can also visit the web site for the International Academy for Collaborative Professionals.

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