Mediation is a required step in a New Jersey divorce for resolving financial and child custody disputes. Courts do offer free and confidential mediation, though the parties can opt for a private mediator instead and both can (and should) hire their own lawyer.
As our New Jersey divorce lawyers can explain, mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where the parties work with a neutral mediator in the hope of resolving disputes and reaching mutual agreements before a judge gets the final say. At the very least, it is advised that you have a family law attorney review the final agreement before you sign off on anything.
Some potential benefits of mediation vs. litigation include:
- More control over the outcome. These are often deeply personal matters, and arguably, you and your spouse know each other and your kids better than anyone. Mediation allows you and your soon-to-be-ex to craft a plan that will best work for you and benefit your kids.
- Tends to be best for kids’ emotional well-being. The process of mediation is all about changing the channel of your communications with your estranged spouse, steering clear of high-voltage issues and focusing on your children. This helps keep the kids from getting caught up in the middle of it all. Divorce is already incredibly difficult for children, but mediation is collaborative. When kids see that parents can still cooperate, communicate and respect each other, it helps make the transition that much easier on them.
- Parenting time agreements reached through mediation are more likely to be followed. When issues of parenting time are litigated through the courts by a judge, it is almost certain that at least one party will walk away feeling aggrieved. In mediation, the focus is not “winners” and “losers.” It is, “We’re in this together, with common goals.” When decisions are reached mutually with outcomes both parties feel good about, they are more likely to follow through with the plan, ultimately minimizing the potential for future conflict.
- Mediation often saves money. Even if you and your co-parent opt for private mediation, it is still usually many thousands of dollars less than litigation.
New Jersey family courts have found these to be well-established benefits, which is why they often mandate parenting time mediation before allowing cases to proceed to trial. If both sides reach an agreement, trial may not be necessary at all, and the judge will simply sign off on your mutual agreement. In other cases, you may resolve some issues through mediation and the rest through litigation.
What Can I Expect With Mediation?
Mediation involves employing a neutral third party who hears both sides and is trained to help you reach an accord on various issues. Mediators will seek common ground where possible, but they cannot force you or your ex into an agreement. Nor is the mediator the decision maker.
In general, there are two types of mediation: Custody mediation (involving the kids and parenting time) and the mediation that occurs after the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (involving your finances). Custody mediation is designated for you and your co-parent to work out any issues related to your shared minor children. Some of the disputes worked out in custody mediation include parenting time, vacations, holiday schedules, extracurricular activities, etc. We often advise clients in preparation to create a list of things that are important to them and indicate their ideal outcome.
Mediation sessions are closed to the public and are confidential.
Mediators will meet with you both, individually and one-on-one (and/or with your attorneys) to discuss the issues and your respective positions. What you say in mediation cannot be used as evidence against you at trial, should the matter go that far. The goal is to create a space for everyone to speak freely in order to reach a compromise. The mediator (or panel) will then make recommendations that you can choose to incorporate into an agreement.
If you and your co-parent reach an agreement, you will want your child custody attorney to review it. At the very least, sleep on it. Although mediation is non-binding, any agreement you sign likely is. As much as you may want to simply be done with the process, these agreements can have a significant impact on your life for years to come. It’s best to make sure you’re making the wisest choice under the current circumstances.
If you attend the Early Settlement Panel, you’ll submit a memo prior summarizing your positions. If you have a lawyer, he/she will prepare this for you. Your attorney can also go before the panel on your behalf and make your case. The panel (comprised of two family law attorneys) will then make a recommendation, which you can either accept or reject. If you accept and presuming there are no other outstanding issues, you can get divorced that same day. If the recommendations aren’t accepted, then your case proceeds to private mediation and if you still cannot agree, then trial.
If you have questions about the mediation process, our New Jersey divorce lawyers are available to help.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.