Mediation is an option for couples who are pursuing an uncontested divorce in New Jersey. There are several reasons why couples choose to settle their divorce through mediation. For instance, mediation is significantly less expensive than settling a divorce through litigation, which can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $40,000 or more. In addition, mediation is generally a less stressful and contentious alternative to a bitter court battle. If you and your spouse are settling your divorce through mediation, and you have questions about any phase of the mediation process, including what happens after the divorce is resolved, contact a skilled divorce lawyer at your earliest convenience.
What Is Mediation?
Divorce mediation is an excellent alternative for couples who want to avoid the time-consuming and expensive process of settling a divorce in court. If you are interested in mediation, you and your spouse will meet with a trained, neutral mediator who will work closely with you to reach an agreement on important issues like child support, child custody, and the division of marital property. Rather than offering legal advice and making decisions on your behalf, mediators help both spouses reach an agreement that meets both parties’ needs. Oftentimes, mediators will draft a divorce settlement and file it with the court. Ultimately, the goal of mediation is to come to a mutually acceptable, legally binding agreement that takes both parties’ needs and desires into consideration.
There are several steps that you will need to take to prepare for divorce mediation, including finding a qualified and experienced mediator who will help you resolve your issues and reach a fair and reasonable agreement. It is also important to compile a comprehensive, organized list of all assets and debts that you currently have, including bank accounts, mortgages, retirement funds, and valuable property. Consider what is important to you and what you are willing to compromise on, including custody issues and visitation. Finally, mediation is meant to be a respectful, productive, and non-confrontational process, not an opportunity to air your grievances.
What Are the Benefits of Mediation?
Mediation is not an option for all couples, particularly if both spouses are unable to communicate with each other in a productive and respectful manner. However, mediation has a range of benefits if you and your spouse can work together to address your issues and negotiate an agreement without resorting to court battles, including the following:
- Cost: Mediation is significantly less expensive than a time-consuming trial.
- Communication: Couples are encouraged to communicate with each other throughout the mediation process. This helps both parties resolve their issues and avoid future conflicts.
- Control: You and your spouse control the process, not the court.
- Option to hire a lawyer: If more complex legal issues arise, or you have trouble resolving an issue, you have the option of seeking legal advice from a lawyer.
- Freedom to negotiate: Unlike a trial, mediation allows you to resolve your issues based on what you and your spouse believe is fair, rather than having a solution imposed upon you.
- Settling the case: In most cases, mediation ends in a settlement of your issues.
Is Mediation Ever Required in a New Jersey Divorce?
In some cases, a judge may order you and your spouse to attend a mediation session. There are two scenarios where a judge must require you and your spouse to attend mediation, including the following:
- Mediation of custody disputes. If you or your spouse files a divorce complaint or a motion that involves custody issues, the case will be reviewed by court staff to determine whether the parents have a genuine dispute. If they do, a judge will order both parents to participate in custody mediation. You or your spouse may request to have the mediation requirement waived, but the judge will only accept this request if you have a valid reason.
- Mediation of financial disputes. Oftentimes, couples are unable to resolve certain issues, including those that are related to financial issues and child support and parenting issues. In these cases, a judge may require you and your spouse to participate in an Early Settlement Program (ESP), which is an alternative dispute resolution process where both spouses attend a hearing in front of a panel of family lawyers who will listen to both parties, review all relevant documents, and recommend a settlement. This is different from the mediation process. If you and your spouse do not agree with the panel’s recommendations, you will be ordered to attend a minimum of two hours of post-ESP mediation.
When Is Mediation Not Recommended?
Since mediation is much less time-consuming and costly than going to trial, it is worth trying, even if you and your spouse have serious issues that need to be resolved, and you harbor ill feelings towards one another. However, there are certain situations where mediation is not recommended, including:
- You are the survivor of domestic abuse, or you fear for the safety of your children. Mediation is not recommended if your spouse is or has been physically or emotionally abusive towards you or your children. Mediation can be traumatic for survivors of abuse. Some mediators will not take cases that involve domestic violence of any kind.
- Your spouse has a history of being deceitful. Mediation is probably not the best way to handle your divorce if your spouse is untrustworthy or is likely to hide assets or waste funds. If this is the case, it is highly recommended that you hire a dedicated divorce lawyer who has your best interests at heart.
- You or your spouse is claiming fault or has hired a lawyer. It is unlikely that mediation will be successful if you are claiming that your spouse is at fault for the failure of your marriage. If your spouse has hired a lawyer, you are strongly urged to hire a dedicated divorce lawyer as soon as possible.
What Should I Expect from the Mediation Process?
While every mediator may have his or her own unique approach to divorce mediation, the process is generally somewhat consistent from one mediator to another. For example, before the mediation process begins, you will probably meet with the mediator and provide background information about your marriage, your family, and the specific issues that are the reason for your divorce. You may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement that states that you and your mediator cannot disclose any information that is discussed during your sessions.
Once the mediation process begins, you will attend mediation sessions, either in a conference room, an office, or online. Some couples choose to have an attorney present, in which case the mediator will likely ask to meet with both sides privately before the session begins. You and your spouse will have the opportunity to make a statement about your situation, and the mediator may ask questions or request additional information. The next step will be to identify the important issues, including those that you and your spouse agree on and those that need to be resolved. To reach an agreement, it is important that you and your spouse are open to compromise and that you listen to each other’s point of view.
After you have negotiated the important issues, and come to a mutually agreed-upon resolution, the mediator will prepare a document that reflects the agreements that you have reached with your spouse. Depending on the mediator’s scope of services, he or she may help prepare a formal settlement agreement, as well as other paperwork that will need to be filed. The next thing you will need to do is to file the settlement agreement, the proposed final divorce judgment and other paperwork with the court. It is possible that you will need to attend a hearing to finalize your divorce, but a 2020 directive from the New Jersey courts allows spouses to request a final divorce without attending a hearing, once they have submitted a property settlement agreement or the final court order that resolves their issues. Either way, a judge will review the divorce agreement and the related paperwork and make the agreement part of the divorce judgment. Once the judge signs the judgment, it is entered into the court records and the divorce is final.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Clients with the Mediation Process
If you and your spouse are considering divorce mediation, our experienced Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can assist you with every step of the mediation process and ensure that your best interests are protected. Our skilled legal team has a proven track record of reaching successful settlement outcomes for our clients. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.