Divorce Arbitration is the Way to Go! So……

by Anthony C. Adamopoulos

A decision of our Appeals Court, Gravlin v. Gravlin, is helpful for those facing divorce.

For collaborative divorce attorneys and divorce mediators, the decision confirms that arbitration is the viable alternative to court litigation for resolving a single issue or even taking the place of a full court trial.

In Gravlin, the Appeals Court acknowledged “… arbitration has long been recognized as a valid means of resolving disputes between divorcing parties.” This Blog has often praised the value of arbitration as an alternative to divorce litigation; with Gravlin, the Appeals Court stamped an imprimatur of sorts on divorce arbitration.

While arbitration is available to replace a public court trial, it is also available if collaboration or mediation reaches a deadlock (a stalemate on one or two remaining issues); then, it is time for divorce arbitration.

When parties follow a simple process, the Appeals Court promises a “… strict standard of review [that] is high[ly] deferential…” to an arbitration award.

What does the simple process involve? The simple process requires that:

Respective counsel advise each party.
Parties freely enter an Agreement to Arbitrate.
Parties knowingly waive a court trial and submit to arbitration.
If there is any trial court review of an arbitration award, the review will be limited to determining:

The arbitrator’s award was confined to what he/she was asked to decide;
The award did not give relief that is prohibited by law;
The award is not based on fraud, arbitrary conduct, or procedural irregularity in the hearing.
(In my experience, the selection of an experienced, knowledgeable arbitrator will result in a positive review and enforcement of the award.)

For collaborative attorneys and mediators, Gravlin is another reason to recommend arbitration for settlement stalemate.

For parties facing divorce or divorce stalemate, arbitration is an alternative to a costly, lengthy and publicly litigated trial.

Anthony is a divorce arbitrator, collaborative attorney and divorce mediator. His office is in Salem.

MBA’s Conflict Resolution Week

By  Michael A. Zeytoonian, Member of the MDRS Panel of Neutrals/Guest Blogger

An annual national tradition in the legal community is the celebration of “Conflict Resolution Week” (CRW) and “Conflict Resolution Day” (CRD) on the third week and the third Thursday of October respectively. This tradition reportedly started here in New England by the New England Association for Conflict Resolution (NE-ACR). It is a week and a day to shine a spotlight on one of the most important bodies of work that lawyers and mediators do – help people effectively resolve disputes. This year, CRW will be from October 16 through October 20, with October 19 as CRD, and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA), through its Dispute Resolution Section, will be celebrating these events in a big way, from Springfield to Andover to Marshfield to Cambridge to Boston!

Dispute Resolution (DR), historically referred to as “alternative dispute resolution” or ADR, was once an alternative to going to a trial to get a case resolved. But recent trends show that people are increasingly choosing to resolve their disputes using these other ways of resolving their disputes more so than going to trial, and often in place of the entire litigation process. In the early 1980’s mediation was rarely used, arbitration was just beginning to be used more regularly by businesses and Collaborative Law (CL) had not even been created yet. (CL was created through the efforts of one attorney in Minnesota in 1990). Today, mediation is the most frequently used means of resolving disputes, even more so than trials or arbitration. As a result, many practitioners and organizations, including the Massachusetts Bar Association’s (MBA) Dispute Resolution Section Council, have “dropped the A” in ADR and now refer to these other options as either DR or DRA (dispute resolution alternatives), reflecting the fact that people are intentionally turning to mediation, CL or arbitration to resolve their disputes. Trials today are rare – 97% of cases filed in courts settle and do not go to trial – and have become the default, to be used only when another DR process doesn’t result in a full resolution of the matter.

To celebrate the emergence of DR, and to help spread the word throughout the Commonwealth about what DR is, how it works and when and how it is being used to successfully resolve disputes, the MBA, through its DR Section Council’s efforts, is offering five different events, one on each day of CRW and each one in a different region of our state. All five the programs are free and open to the public. The MBA encourages anyone interested in DR as well as lawyers, practitioners of DR, judges, law school students and the general public to attend one or more of these programs.

Conflict Resolution Day on October 19 will feature a gala Reception at the John Adams Courthouse’s Second Floor Conference Room in Boston, starting at 5:30 pm, with a program opened by our two Chief Justices Ralph D. Gants and Paula M. Carey and featuring as its keynote Kenneth Weinberg, a man who has done important work in several conflict situations including 9/11, the Boston Marathon Bombing and other hotspots and events around the world.

The Peacemaker, a documentary film on the outstanding work around the world’s trouble spots of one man, Padraig O’Malley, will be the featured focal point of the Friday, October 20 event. The screening of this film will begin at 7 pm at Harvard Law School’s Ames Auditorium. After the film, both Mr. O’Malley and the film’s producer/director James Demo will be part of panel about the film and Mr. O’Malley’s ongoing work. This event is co-sponsored by the Harvard Program on Negotiation.

Other events around the state will recognize the work of those hundreds of volunteers working all through the state in court-connected community mediation programs (October 16 in the afternoon at the Hall of Justice in Springfield), peer mediation and other programs designed to address and resolve youth and community disputes (October 17 in the late afternoon at Massachusetts School of Law in Andover) and the use of mediation and CL to resolve disputes arising out of families in transition – divorce, inheritance and family business succession matters (October 18 in the early afternoon at the Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield).

We encourage you to attend one or more of these events, learn more about DR and encourage others who may be interested in knowing about the many options available to them for resolving their legal issues to join in the celebration. For more information or to RSVP, please visit the MBA’s website at www.massbar.org.

Dispute Resolution Day in Massachusetts

Governor Baker has declared October the 19th  2017 Dispute Resolution Day in Massachusetts!  You can read Gov. Baker’s full announcement here: https://www.massbar.org/media/1807084/dr%20day%20proclamation.pdf  The day falls within Conflict Resolution Week and Baker urges all citizens of Massachusetts “to take cognizance of this event and participate fittingly in its observance.”  Citizens deserve education and access to ALL appropriate forms of dispute resolution. October 19th will be a day to empower the public and improve access to conflict resolution. The Massachusetts Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section invites you to attend a FREE event on 10/19/17 from5:30-7:30 pm at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston featuring Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, best known for his special master work on the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund and his administration of Boston’s One Fund.  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey will also be speaking at the event. We hope you are able to join us!  https://www.massbar.org/publications/e-journal/2017/september/09-28/dr-conflict-resolution-week

Celebrate Conflict Resolution Week October 16-22

In 2005, the Association for Conflict Resolution [ACR] designated the third Thursday in October as Conflict Resolution Day, and later, the American Bar Association [ABA] designated the third week of October as Mediation Week.  Over the past decade, many states and other organizations have proclaimed days, weeks, and months in this honor, acknowledging the commendable and empowering services provided to all people via the many methods which comprise Dispute Resolution.

The DR Section celebrates this week with you to raise awareness about the availability of proven dispute resolution services to lessen the time, economic, and emotional costs of prolonged litigation, and the settlement of conflicts at every level.  We encourage users and practitioners to
focus this week on promoting fair, equitable, and creative solutions that are acceptable to the needs and interests of all parties involved.

Do you have a favorite Conflict Resolution activity, quote, story, or wisdom that you’d like to share? Visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MassDispute/ or email us at caseadmin@mdrs.com

A Giant Leap Forward: Dispute Resolution Drops the ‘A’ and Launches MBA Section

“Over the past decades, no area of practice has grown to have a wider impact on legal operations than dispute resolution.” -Brian Jerome

The numbers don’t lie: 95% of pending personal injury lawsuits end in a pretrial settlement (according to Law Dictionary’s website), while legal news site Above the Law reports that only 1.5% of civil cases in Massachusetts ever make it to a jury. We at MDRS are excited and grateful to have been part of this prodigious evolution in the practice of law during our 25 years of service.

Recently, our role in the DR community has taken an even more specific leadership turn. Our founder and CEO Brian Jerome spearheaded September 1 st ’s official launch of the MBA’s brand new Dispute Resolution (DR) Section. Not only does the MBA finally have a dedicated DR Section, there has been an important terminology advancement as well: previously known as Alternative Dispute Resolution, ‘ADR’ has graduated to a more appropriately-named Dispute Resolution, or ‘DR’, in reflection of its legitimate wide-ranging contributions to law.

A Resource for All

“We’re delighted with the launch of our Section, and are working hard to become the primary resource of collaboration, outreach, and service for the entire DR industry here in Massachusetts,” said Brian Jerome, Chair of the MBA’s DR Section.

The new Section is building off the dedicated efforts of the earlier committee-driven working groups to offer resources to all who wish to access them, well beyond the previously limited membership. Any MBA member can join the DR Section (at no additional charge). Participation offers many rewarding opportunities to collaborate and network with known leaders in all areas of the law, gain new information and practice skills, provide service to the community, and be part of actual industry innovation.

Goals for the 2016-17 Association Year are in development and include outreach to every law school in Massachusetts and the development of live case observation plans, establishment of an appropriate and meaningful CLE program, skills development via best practice events, focus on identifying and meeting specific needs of young lawyers and those in small firms and solo practices, and much more…all of which are being conducted with the promotion of current and future MBA membership and participation in mind.

As Massachusetts Superior Court Associate Justice Dennis Curran has expressed, “Most people don’t want to be in the legal system. [They] don’t want to go to court.” Dispute Resolution offers economical solutions, speed, confidentiality, scheduling ease, immense flexibility, high settlement rates, and in most cases, the ability to settle their case and move on with their work and lives. #DR

Collaborative Law, PEN Focus of MBA ADR Panel

by Attorney Michael A. Zeytoonian

Most people who are in a dispute think about mediation or arbitration as alternatives to lawsuits and litigation. But there are several other process choices that people have for how to resolve their disputes. That critical choice of which process to use is often the most important choice people make in resolving their legal issue. Among these other choices are Collaborative Law, Case Evaluation and a general approach called Planned Early Negotiation or PEN.

Four talented and experienced practitioners teamed up for a lively and enlightening panel presentation and discussion on these other approaches to resolving disputes on May 17 at the MBA office in Boston. The program was the last in a 2016 series of “Best ADR Practices” presented by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s (MBA) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)Committee. Brian Jerome, Esq. of Massachusetts Dispute Resolution Services in Boston and ADR Committee Chairman, along with MBA President Robert Harnais, Esq., welcomed a full and engaged audience to the program. Jerome also announced that the ADR Committee will be expanded and transformed into the new Dispute Resolution (DR) Section of the MBA starting in September, 2016 and welcomed people to join it.

Michael Zeytoonian, Esq. of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC in Wellesley, opened the panel discussion and served as its moderator. Zeytoonian set the tone for these “cutting edge” DR processes, suggesting a different approach to resolving disputes by designing the DR process to be responsive to the situation. He noted that processes like Collaborative Law offer parties the flexibility and agility to be shaped to the circumstances of each unique dispute, and intentionally designed for the goal of resolving the dispute efficiently and creatively.

Paul Faxon, Esq, a transactional attorney whose firm is in Waltham, explained the basic elements and components of Collaborative Law, specifically focusing on its application in small, closely-held or family business disputes. Faxon noted that this approach’s effectiveness when ongoing relationships are important to the parties, where the parties want to control their destinies and not turn the decision-making over to a third party, and where cost and time efficiency is valued. He highlighted some of the basic elements of Collaborative Law including the open and voluntary
sharing of all relevant information and the shared retaining of neutral experts that can freely and independently serve as a resource to the negotiation process.

David Consigli, a CPA and business valuation expert with the CPA firm of Alexander Aronson & Finning in Boston and Westborough, spoke about the advantages to using a neutral expert in a Collaborative case or a Mediation. He compared the role of an independent expert providing value to all parties as opposed to being hired by either the plaintiff or the defendant. He pointed out the value of having expert information available in business break-ups or partnership disputes, as well as the importance of valuation information in business succession planning.

John Fieldsteel, Esq., a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and case evaluator whose specialty area of practice is complex construction cases, spoke about using case evaluation as a tool and an approach that can often be transitioned into mediation or used to assist a mediation. Case evaluation gives the parties a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their case as well as good indication of what the range of damages would be. Fieldsteel talked about the value to the parties of giving them good information, often confidentially, about the strength or viability of their positions and how useful this neutrally given information is in reaching a settlement.

Dispute Resolution Diffuses Explosive Situations

by Sheri Stevens Wilson

The Islamic Society of Greater Worcester is seeking town approval to develop a Muslim cemetery on 55 acres it plans to purchase in Dudley, Massachusetts. The group seeks a local option where their burial customs could be followed, which sometimes include ‘green’ burial options, direct contact with the dead, very specific positioning of the body according to their religious tradition and beliefs, and dignified behavior at the burial. At a recent public hearing, many residents voiced pointed opposition to the plan. Among the concerns were those of the possible effect on the local water table, traffic, noise, and vandalism. There were additional remarks made, however, which clearly showed emotional reactions and which transcended more straightforward issues.

Most present at the recent Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing might say there’s no hope of ever reaching resolution of this situation.

We hear this all the time.

We are mediators.

What are mediators? Mediators are skilled negotiators who assist those on opposing sides of an issue work toward agreement. Mediation has been a system of resolution for thousands of years and is practiced across the world in different cultures. As objective and unbiased neutrals, Mediators bring reasoning to situations where emotions and complex issues have often taken over productive discussion. Mediators have many different tools they employ, based on the conflicts and the parties involved. In general, they work to determine the genuine, underlying issues. They identify and dismantle false beliefs. They provide support for the parties to form new opinions based on facts. And they guide negotiations to determine the ways in which everyone’s needs can be met. Peacefully.

The beauty of mediation is that the parties retain all of the power, and are never made to accept methods of resolution that that decision-makers are not in agreement with. And the rate of settlement in approaching even the most complex problems in this manner is very, very high.

Attorney Brian R. Jerome, Founder and CEO of Massachusetts Dispute Resolution Services [MDRS] shares, “The controversy in Dudley involves competing interests of many factions and an interpretation of the law which creates uncertainty for all involved. That it is all in the context of an Islamic religious group raises the potential for passions and emotions to be inflamed, in part as a result of fear. In situations such as this, mediation provides a process where all of the competing groups can be heard, and their true needs and interests can be accommodated and satisfied by a carefully sculpted resolution. The parties would benefit from a better understanding of each other, and an attempt to collaborate rather than confront one another. Proceeding to a final arbitrary zoning decision may well be all or nothing, with a winner and a loser, rather than the give and take of mediation and what could be a win-win result. We encourage the parties to consider mediating their dispute, rather than continuing confrontation with the potential for further negative escalation.”

At MDRS, we’ve been helping people resolve disputes for 25 years. As leaders in the law, we find nothing as rewarding as helping our clients attain better end-results than they ever thought possible. If you are involved in a conflict and would like to speak with us further, please call (800) 536-5520 or visit us at www.mdrs.com.