In his open letter dated March 24, 2020, Chief Justice Casey indicated that it is important, during the current Covid-19 crisis and corresponding Stay-at-Home Advisory, for children to spend time with both of their parents. While this provided welcome clarity for upcoming parenting exchanges, it also created an opportunity - especially for parties operating under a parenting schedule by way of a temporary order and in the midst of contested litigation concerning custody issues - to put contested litigation issues aside and create a parenting arrangement (perhaps even a temporary, equal parenting) that more effectively deals with the reality of school/child-care closures and the requirements of working remotely (for both parents and students).
Mediation and conciliation are two of the most common methods of alternative dispute resolution ("ADR"). In each of these voluntary processes, a third party neutral with no stake in the case tries to facilitate a compromise or agreement between parties who are in dispute. The mediator, or conciliator, will spend time with the parties and work with them, and their counsel, to assess each of their goals and help them move towards an agreement that is fair and reasonable and something each of the parties can live with.
Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:18 encompasses the Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution ("Rules"). The Rules govern court-connected dispute resolution services provided in civil and criminal cases in the Commonwealth's trial courts. One of the express purposes of the Rules is to "foster innovation" in the delivery of court-connected dispute resolution services. Conciliation is an alternative dispute resolution process offered in many of the Commonwealth's Probate & Family Courts, and in some District and Superior Courts.
Settlement conferences in pending divorce and family law cases often result in the parties entering full and final settlement agreements. The parties in such a case appear at an uncontested hearing when they ask the Judge to approve and incorporate their signed agreement into the court's judgment. This settlement procedure takes place in lieu of the parties taking their contested issues to trial, after which the Judge enters a final judgment on behalf of the parties, which is a final resolution of the case not based on an agreement between the parties, but on the Judge's findings of fact and his or her application of the law to such facts, which must be presented to the Judge in accordance with applicable rules of evidence at trial. Trying a case can indeed be a very expensive and time-consuming process.