Divorce Decree Can’t Compel Mediation

In a recent ruling on Ventrice v. Ventrice, a husband and wife could not be compelled to engage in mediation at their own expense as a condition of their being permitted to file actions in the future to enforce or modify the terms of their divorce. The husband argued that his right to free access to the courts was violated by a clause in his divorce decree requiring the parties to engage in, and pay for, court-directed mediation before either could file any subsequent action in court. Ultimately, the Court agreed. And so do we. In fact, one of our Divorce Mediation experts, C. Michele Dorsey, Esq. writes, “For mediation to be truly effective, it must be voluntary. There have been noble efforts by courts and other administrative agencies to work around this by establishing rules that attempt to address the concerns that arise when court-connected mediation is mandated.” Current Massachusetts law (M.G.L. c.233, aec.23c) provides limited direction and protection for people who choose to participate in private mediation. Ventrice v. Ventrice refers to the direction given by the court in Bower v. Bournay-Bower, a decision that addressed issues regarding the authority of parenting coordinators, but also mentioned mediators and other ADR professionals. It’s high time to enact a comprehensive statute that provides protection to people who choose to engage in private mediation as well as guidance for private mediators.

Mediation is a valuable service which should be available without having to compromise constitutional rights.” Another of our Divorce Mediation experts, Patricia D. Watson, Esq. further notes, “The reference in the decision to Gustin v. Gustin, which held that a judge cannot order the parties to binding arbitration unless they agree to do so, suggests that this decision limits what a judge can order, but does not limit the ability of the parties to agree otherwise.” This indicates that the decision in Ventrice v. Ventrice may be more narrow than it first appears. What does all this mean to those seeking Alternative Dispute Resolution? Mediation and arbitration still remain available to divorce litigants who both agree to employ a process that will provide a faster, less expensive, and less stressful resolution of their conflict then going to court.

Our experts in divorce mediation can help you and your clients resolve even the most contentious of conflicts. Visit us at www.mdrs.com or call us at (800) 536-5520 to learn more about how we can help you achieve the results you need.