7 Reasons to Consider Divorce Mediation in New Jersey
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce Mediation is an alternative to litigation whereby a neutral third party facilitates discussion and resolution of any issues arising from divorce. Couples meet with a divorce mediator who will help them negotiate, with the goal of arriving at a divorce settlement.
Because divorce mediation is a non-adversarial process, it is more likely that the parties can maintain an amicable and cooperative relationship after their marriage has ended. This is especially valuable when the couple has children they must continue to co-parent after their marriage has ended.
What Should I Expect in Divorce Mediation?
A common question is, how does divorce mediation work? Here is the divorce mediation process:
Your attorney can help you find a local divorce mediator. It is generally preferable to use an attorney-mediator but some mental health practitioners can also be effective. Please note, however, that just because the mediator is an attorney he or she will not provide legal advice; they are merely more familiar with all of the issues that may arise in a divorce action. Initially, the mediator will meet with you either separately, or together, to get background information and to discover what issues remain unresolved in the pending divorce and where each party stands regarding each issue. Each party and the mediator will sign a confidentiality agreement providing that nothing discussed in mediation can be disclosed other than to the parties’ attorneys.
Your attorneys may or may not be present - that is your decision. Many mediators will ask couples to try the first session without their attorneys, as this keeps costs down and if the parties can express their wants, needs, and priorities adequately, legal representation is not needed. However, if your spouse plans to bring an attorney to mediation, you must do so as well.
What Issues Can Be Brought Up In Divorce Mediation?
Virtually any problem that can arise during the pendency of a divorce can be resolved through mediation. Common issues addressed in divorce mediation include:
- Distribution of Property (both assets and liabilities);
- Child Custody and Parenting Time;
- Child Support and Maintenance.
Negotiating an Agreement
Your divorce mediator may suggest that you deal with simpler issues first. Early successes in the negotiation process build confidence and trust, making it more likely that the thornier issues can also be resolved.
A divorce mediator’s job is to keep a couple on track, help the couple listen to each other, and help brainstorm possible solutions. As long as each party remains open to compromise and listens to each other, there is a good chance that compromise can be reached.
Completing the Agreement
When the negotiation process is complete, with all issues resolved, the mediator will reduce a couple’s agreements to writing called the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This document will be reviewed by the parties’ attorneys and then be converted to a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) which eventually becomes part of your divorce judgment.
How Long After Divorce Mediation is the Divorce Final?
This varies with different courts and counties in NJ, as it depends upon the court docket and any backlog. However, if mediation is successful in resolving all outstanding issues, all that remains is for one of the parties to actually initiate the divorce action which is basically just procedural at this point. The court will thereafter schedule an Uncontested Divorce hearing.
At this hearing, one of the attorneys will give the judge a document called the Final Judgment of Divorce, which the judge will sign and affix with a gold seal. Please note that the judge does not review or approve the terms of the MSA but will merely inquire if the agreement was entered into freely, voluntarily, without coercion and that the parties believe its terms to be fair.
Why You Should Consider Divorce Mediation
- Mediation is much less expensive and can be quicker than a trial or series of hearings.
- Mediation can settle all of the issues arising in your divorce.
- Mediation is confidential and there is no public record.
- Mediation allows you to arrive at a resolution based on your own ideas of what is fair, rather than having a solution imposed upon you by a judge.
- You can still have a lawyer give you legal advice if you wish.
- You and your spouse, not the court, control the process and the outcomes.
- The mediation process can improve communication between you and your spouse, which will help you avoid and resolve conflict in the future.
Divorce Mediation Is Not For Everyone
Not every couple belongs in divorce mediation. For example, in cases of domestic violence, mediation may not be appropriate or be prohibited altogether if there is a Final Restraining Order in existence. Also, one spouse may try to use the mediation process inappropriately to stall proceedings and/or avoid paying support. But under circumstances where both parties are open and willing to negotiate, and the balance of power is more or less equalized by the presence of the divorce mediator, mediation can be a powerful and effective tool to resolve couples’ issues and help them move forward.
Katherine K. Wagner, Esq. graduated from Duke University and Washington & Lee University Law School. Ms. Wagner also holds a Certificate in Divorce Mediation from Rutgers University, and is a graduate of the American Bar Association Family Law Advocacy Institute.
Ms. Wagner has co-chaired the Somerset County Family Law Committee and serves as a panelist for the Somerset County Early Settlement Program and as a mediator for the Somerset County Child Custody Mediation Program. She also volunteers with Legal Services of Northwest New Jersey and the Resource Center for Women and their Families.
In addition to maintaining her busy professional and pro bono schedule, Ms. Wagner blogs regularly on issues and current events in family law.