Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process in which a trained “neutral,” like Ms. Bowman, helps the parties negotiate their separation settlement themselves, rather than leaving it in the hands of a judge, who necessarily does not know their financial situation or their children as well as the parties do themselves. The role of a mediator is to manage the airwaves and provide information and ideas while the parties solve problems and negotiate the terms of their settlement. It is a more private process and usually less expensive than court and gives the parties greater control of what happens to their family structure and finances.
Guardian ad litem
An attorney or mental health professional who has qualified for the Probate and Family Court Category F Guardian ad litem (“GAL”) list (as Ms. Bowman has) may be appointed, by agreement of the parties or by rotation on the court’s list, to investigate the family’s situation, in order to give the court as much information as possible in reaching a decision about a parenting plan that will best serve the needs of the children. The GAL will usually interview the parents and the children and make home visits, as well as talk to teachers, therapists, coaches, etc. to get a picture of the family in context. If the court requests, the GAL may include recommendations as to an appropriate parenting plan. Ms. Bowman accepts both state paid and privately paid GAL appointments.
Parenting coordination is another dispute resolution process, in which the parenting coordinator (“PC”) serves as a neutral to help families manage conflicts that may arise after a parenting plan is in place. An attorney or mental health professional who has qualified for the Probate and Family Court Category V list (as Ms. Bowman has) may be chosen by the court or by agreement of the parties, but the appointment must be formalized in a court order in either case. Mediation and education are the primary tools of parenting coordination, but if the parents reach a real impasse, the PC can make a decision or recommendation to resolve the issue. The court always has the final say, of course, but if the parties have agreed ahead of time (when the PC is appointed), the PC’s decisions will have binding effect until the court hears the matter. The PC process thus helps to keep parents out of court and saves time, money, and stress for parents and children.