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Women Leading in Central MA: Top Divorce Mediator Polly Tatum

Monday, June 17, 2013


In 2011, Worcester attorney and resident Polly Tatum became the first African American and only the third woman to preside over the Worcester County Bar Association. As a solo practitioner focusing on Divorce and Family Mediation, Same Sex and Second Parent Adoptions, Family Law, and Estate Planning, Attorney Tatum is also a leader and a respected authority in the complex field of divorce mediation and in her work with those in non-traditional relationships. Through her law office, Mediation Advantage Services, Tatum estimates that she has conducted over 2000 mediation cases, and she works with as many as 10-20 couples each week, including those in non-traditional as well as traditional relationships. Since entering private practice in 1997 she has dedicated herself to family law.

Attorney Tatum has served as a four-term co-chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee for the Worcester County Bar Association, an executive member of the Lutheran Social Services Permanency Mediation Committee, and as a board member of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women

Tatum has also sat on numerous nonprofit boards in Worcester County including those of Girls, Inc., The United Way of Central Massachusetts, and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Business Empowerment Center where she served as board chairperson. She was the recipient of the 2005 Katherine Forbes Erskine Award for Business and Law and was one of 2012’s Outstanding Women in Business.

Leading divorce mediator Polly A. Tatum.

SW: Speaking from experience, divorce is difficult for everyone involved. You have been an early advocate for mediation. What does it offer that makes it a better option?

PT: There are so many benefits to mediating your divorce as opposed to engaging in a public courtroom battle. I believe that divorce mediation with an experienced divorce mediator provides a couple with the opportunity to work out the terms of their divorce agreement privately and expeditiously, and it can save them money. A lot of people believe that they have to be amicable and in agreement on most issues in order to mediate their divorce. I always tell folks that the only thing they have to agree upon is that they want to use mediation as the process in order to get divorced as opposed to hiring two separate lawyers and engaging in expensive litigation.

Additionally, it is well documented that divorce and separation are second only to death as far as the trauma they induce. People who are going through a divorceare experiencing a variety of emotions. Mediation can help a client gain a sense of control. They organize their finances through a structured process and collect information, develop budgets and parenting plans, and work out the details of their actual physical separation. A skilled divorce mediator is sensitive and compassionate in helping families navigate the process and address custody, child support, alimony, health insurance, property division, and allocation of debts in general. The divorce mediation process helps couples gain control over their divorce.

SW: You have said that hard work and perseverance has helped define your success. What in your life has contributed to that work ethic?

PT: I grew up in a community where people took pride in working hard and carving out their small piece of the American dream. When I graduated from high school in 1982, the country was in a recession and jobs were scarce. I worked for two years in factories in Leominster and Fitchburg and decided that I wanted more. By the time I went to college in 1984, I appreciated the value of an education. When my oldest child was born in 1985, I began to create a financial and emotional support system for my family. It still isn’t easy balancing career, children, community, and older loved ones. Creating a success of anything takes a lot of hard work, resilience, and perseverance. 

SW: Before becoming a lawyer you held several positions in human services. Is that what led you to family law?

PT: My background in human services coupled with law provided me with an excellent background to help families going through a separation or divorce. I was interested in combining both of my professional backgrounds and so I ventured into family law, which ultimately led me into divorce mediation. My goal was to improve the way divorce was practiced in Central Massachusetts for individuals and families. I believe that divorce mediation is a humane and civilized process that helps families best get through a traumatic time in their lives. 

SW: You have a strong commitment to public service and believe that “a good lawyer makes a living while a great lawyer makes a difference.” What led you to public service?

PT: I have always been a strong believer in public service. So many people have helped me further my career along the way and were instrumental in my becoming the type of lawyer that I am. Public service is my opportunity to engage my community and to give back. I truly believe that the person giving receives the greatest benefit through knowing that you have helped someone in need. That’s what America is about, helping your neighbor and fellow citizens. Being a part of this noble legal profession affords me with certain responsibilities to help provide access to justice for all citizens. I am hopeful that I demonstrate that by my actions in my volunteer efforts as well as the type of practice that I have developed.

SW: You feel strongly about being an advocate for Worcester’s non-traditional families. What work do you specialize in?

PT: I strive to be an advocate for all families. The diversity of families in today’s modern society means so many things. Early in my practice I recognized that all families, including same sex couples, single parents, and heterosexual couples needed compassionate and comprehensive divorce and family mediation services.  My motto was and always has been equal representation for all families throughout the cities and towns of Worcester County and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I work with couples who have come from as far away as Boston, Cape Cod, and Springfield because they know they can trust me to be both compassionate and a professional who takes pride in providing high quality services to everyone.

SW: What do you feel has defined your time as president of the Worcester County Bar Association?

PT: My year as President of the WCBA was truly special. Our Association celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2012. I was able to work with some dynamic members in organizing a spectacular gala event to commemorate our anniversary. Additionally, I sought to increase diversity of engagement within our organization to include more women, people of color, younger lawyers, and lawyers from various practice areas to further enhance the vibrancy of the organization.

SW: What advice do you have for young African-American women considering law?

PT: I am hopeful that women of color might view me as a pioneer in the Worcester County Bar Association. There will always be a first in every organization, and I am proud to be the first African American president (male or female) of the WCBA. I guess the real message would be, if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Don’t let fear stop you from becoming active and engaged.

With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Susan Wagner is known for driving events, initiatives, launches, and openings for the healthcare, sporting, and entertainment fields through her company Susan Wagner PR. She consults in the development and execution of a broad range of outreach programs & public relations initiatives that effectively educate, inform, and build relationships with targeted stakeholder groups. In this challenging economy, Wagner also offers affordable start-up packages to new and emerging businesses and organizations.


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