The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, including the case flow of the New Jersey family courts. The one bit of good news if you’re thinking about separating or in the middle of a divorce is that alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation, can still be done virtually with either tele- or video conferencing.
Although the state judiciary suspended all in-person, non-emergency matters effective March 18th and until further notice. You can expect that most divorce cases will experience some delays.
Mediation, however, can largely continue as scheduled, though meetings will be virtual.
What is Mediation?
Mediation has a wide range of legal applications, and family law is just one of those. It’s a means of resolving a legal matter – including divorce – without taking your case to court.
The process involves both sides coming together with the help of a neutral third party (often an attorney) to work out their differences without the help of a judge. An attorney in New Jersey divorce mediation doesn’t represent either you or your ex-spouse, and no legal advice will be given to either party. Instead, the mediator will work to help both sides address and reach agreements about any legal issues that need to be resolved for the divorce to be finalized.
Although mediators need not be divorce lawyers, it’s a good idea for whoever you choose to be experienced in the area of law your case deals with because otherwise, key issues may be overlooked, causing bigger problems down the road for everyone.
Mediation can be used to resolve a single issue or all of them, including:
- Distribution of assets and debts. That means not just dividing these items, but first identifying and valuing them. This can be anything from the mortgage, credit card debts, personal belongings, and retirement accounts. It’s important for your mediator to understand what exactly is considered marital property so they can assist with the equitable distribution of it.
- Parenting time, child custody and child support issues. This can involve living arrangements, visitation and plans for extended parenting time for things like holidays or vacations. It can also involve emergency parenting time arrangements, which may be especially important in these uncertain times. This could include things like where children should stay if one parent gets sick and how parenting time might need to be adjusted if one parent is a frontline worker coming into regular contact with the public during the pandemic. Issues involving children are often among the most contentious issues in a divorce, but usually, both parties are happier if they can resolve it together without judicial intervention because they have more control. New Jersey courts offer basic guidelines for parenting time and child support to make the process more straightforward.
- Alimony/spousal support. New Jersey also provides basic guidelines for alimony, as outlined in in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. If there was a prenuptial agreement, that may come into play, but this too can be resolved in virtual mediation.
Sometimes, New Jersey Family Courts will order couples to mediate before having their case heard by a Judge. Some couples choose this path on their own anyway.
Virtual Mediation in New Jersey
Many mediators were already using Zoom and other secure, online conferencing apps to conduct mediation, particularly in cases where one spouse or parent had moved far away or where in-person meetings were a hardship. These apps allow private conferencing, they’re password-protected and they allow us to maintain attorney-client confidentiality.
That’s made this transition to all-virtual that much smoother for those initiating or already engaged in mediation.
If you have questions about mediation or the process of virtual mediation, our East Brunswick family law firm can help. We continue to offer free initial consultations over the phone and via video conferencing.
Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.