Not all divorces result in a bitter and contentious court battle. In fact, an increasing number of divorcing couples are turning to mediation as a way to resolve important issues like alimony, child support and the division of marital property. This process is also less costly and time-consuming than litigation. In addition, couples are often able to reach a more amicable divorce agreement and maintain a respectful and positive relationship going forward by going through the mediation process. If you and your spouse have decided to get a divorce, and you are considering divorce mediation, an experienced divorce lawyer can assist you with this process and address all of your questions and concerns.
What Is Divorce Mediation?
Mediation is a divorce process whereby you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party, known as a divorce mediator, to discuss the main issues that need to be resolved. The mediator does not make decisions for you. Rather, they help guide you through the divorce process in a constructive way. Mediation allows you to discuss and resolve your issues privately, without having to go to court. Ultimately, the goal of mediation is to reach a mutually satisfying and legally binding agreement that takes both spouses’ needs and wishes into consideration.
Is Mediation Required in New Jersey?
Mediation is not mandatory in New Jersey. It is a voluntary process that couples who are going through a no-fault divorce may decide to pursue. However, there are circumstances when a judge will order you and your spouse to attend a mediation session, including the following:
- There are custody disputes. If one or both parents have filed a complaint or motion involving a custody dispute or parenting time, and the court staff determines that there is a valid dispute, a judge will order the parents to participate in custody mediation, unless domestic violence is involved. You may ask to have the mediation requirement waived, but the judge will only approve the request if they find that you have good reason for the request.
- There is a financial dispute. There are a range of financial issues that must be resolved during the divorce process including child support, alimony, and the equitable distribution of marital property. If divorcing couples are unable to resolve disagreements about any of these financial issues, a judge may order them to participate in an Early Settlement Program (ESP). This is an alternate dispute resolution process where the spouses attend a hearing in front of a panel of family lawyers. The panel will review the documents, hear from both sides, and recommend a settlement. If both spouses disagree with the panel’s recommendation, they will be ordered to attend a minimum of two hours of post-ESP mediation.
What Are the Main Advantages of Divorce Mediation?
Mediation offers divorcing couples a range of advantages over traditional divorce litigation. For example, mediation is significantly less expensive, and generally results in a swifter resolution. It also offers more privacy and confidentiality than the litigation process. Mediation also appeals to couples who want to avoid conflict and remain on somewhat good terms after the divorce, particularly if they have children with whom they share custody.
How Does Mediation Address Parenting Issues?
Parenting and custody-related issues are often among the most important issues that are addressed in any divorce agreement, including the mediation process. The mediator will work with you and your spouse to help you come up with a custody agreement that works for both of you and ensures that your children’s best interests are protected. Ultimately, the mediator’s role is not to make a judgment, but to help you and your spouse listen to each other and reach a mutual agreement regarding custody, child support and parenting time.
Should I Hire a Mediator Who is Also a Lawyer?
A trained mediator may or may not also be a lawyer. While it is not necessary that the mediator you hire is also a lawyer, there are considerable advantages if your mediator is an attorney. For example, even though mediation allows you and your spouse to avoid going to court, divorce is a legal process, and your case will ultimately go before a judge. If your mediator is a lawyer, they will have a better understanding of the court system and what is required in order for a divorce agreement to be deemed acceptable.
How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost?
Mediation is considerably less expensive than litigation for a number of reasons. Litigation involves substantially more hours of lawyer fees, court costs, witness fees and other expenses associated with a more time-consuming process. Typically, mediation costs between $100 to $250 per session, and the total number of sessions required will depend on the issues that need resolving and you and your spouse’s willingness to be flexible and compromise. The total cost for mediation can range from $3,000 to $8,000, which is generally split between you and your spouse.
How Do I Prepare for the Mediation Process?
There are a number of proactive steps you are urged to take in order to be as prepared as possible for your first mediation session, including the following:
- Select an experienced mediator. Do your own research and look for a mediator who has a proven track record of successfully guiding couples through the mediation process and reaching an agreement that is fair and addresses both parties’ concerns.
- Organize financial records. Compile a list of all of your assets and debts, including bank accounts, mortgages, property retirement funds, vehicles, and credit card balances. This will help the mediator have a thorough understanding of your financial situation and recommend the best way to proceed.
- Set goals. If you and your spouse are able to come up with a clear set of goals, and what you hope to achieve during mediation, including what issues you are willing to compromise on, the mediator will be better able to help you achieve those goals.
- Approach the process with a cooperative attitude. Mediation is not meant to be adversarial or argumentative. Therefore, it is important that you come ready to cooperate and participate in a productive and respectful discussion about a range of issues, including custody, child support, alimony, parenting time, the equitable distribution of assets, and whether or not to sell the family home.
How Long Does the Mediation Process Last?
Every divorce is different, and some may require more sessions than others to resolve the issues at hand. However, most cases take between one and five sessions. Mediation sessions are usually scheduled for two hours, but the duration of each session can be modified based on you and your spouse’s schedules and specific needs. During the initial session, the mediator will explain the different steps of the mediation process and what to expect from each. After the orientation, the mediation process involves the following stages:
- Identifying the important issues that need to be resolved. The mediator will assist you with the process of analyzing budgets, dividing marital property, determining parenting schedules and custody issues, and the importance of providing a continuity of care for the children.
- Discussing potential solutions to disagreements may arise. Even couples who are going through a relatively amicable divorce may disagree on certain issues. A mediator will help you navigate the conflict resolution process and present a range of potential solutions to disagreements.
- Negotiating a mutually agreeable settlement agreement. Once you and your spouse have reached a mutual agreement about how to proceed, the mediator will draw up a memorandum of understanding, which reflects the agreements that you and your spouse have reached. The settlement agreement will be filed with the court. A judge will review the paperwork and make the agreement part of the divorce judgment, assuming everything is in order. Once the judgment is entered into the court records, the divorce will be final.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Navigate the Mediation Process
If you and your spouse are getting a divorce, and you would like to know more about the mediation process, you are urged to contact the Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville, Morristown, and Freehold, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.