When a Massachusetts judge decides how a family law matter should be resolved, that judicial officer will create an order that stipulates just how the parties must act with regard to the custody, support or divorce matter under consideration. A judicially created order is binding on the parties. This means that the parties are required to act in accordance with the terms of the order or they may face real penalties like claims of contempt of court.
The Massachusetts courts allow parties to use mediation to resolve their family law differences. As previously discussed on this blog, a mediation session brings opposing parties together before a neutral, unbiased mediator. That mediator does not represent either of the parties and does not advocate for a particular resolution to their family law dispute.
During the mediation session the parties can talk through issues to try to resolve their own problem in a hands-on manner. They are not subject to the mandates of a judge and can resolve their disputes on their own terms. If they are able to come up with a way to fix their problems in mediation, the terms of the decision are embodied in a settlement agreement.
In many situations the agreement that the parties make in mediation is considered a legal contract. Contracts bind people to their terms and often include enforcement and penalty clauses that explain what can happen if a party fails to abide by the agreement’s terms. In some situations a family court judge may adopt a settlement agreement as an enforceable order and give the order the judicial weight of a judge-made order.
Mediation gives people the power to settle their own differences. The agreements they make in mediation can be enforceable just as orders made by judges are enforceable. Both mediation and courtroom hearings can be appropriate ways to handle family law disputes.