When a family engages in divorce or custody proceedings, it can be a particularly harrowing experience. The complications that stem from the law can cause a great deal of stress for all parties. One strategy for the negotiation and resolution of any family law case is the use of mediation. Mediation is a court-supervised process where two parties attempt to resolve a dispute regarding property division, custody, and even support orders. Typically, mediation requires both parties to attend a session hosted by an outside, third-party mediator, who will attempt to hear arguments on both sides and ensure that both parties feel that their arguments are heard. The overall goal of mediation is to attempt to reach a settlement between the two parties and reduce the degree of emotional stress caused by the legal process. If you're ready to try mediation in New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm can help.
Mediation In New Jersey
Mediation is a necessary step in many family law proceedings in New Jersey. Before a case can reach the courtroom, the court will order a mediation session to try to resolve the issue. Mediation sessions are available through the county court that the divorce or custody order is being filed in. Also, residents in New Jersey can contact a mediator of their own preference instead of having the court assign one. Mediation is done through several sessions, with each session building on issues discussed at the prior session. At the end of the mediation process, a settlement will be drafted and sent along to the court for the approval of a judge. Mediators must be approved by the State of New Jersey and attend a rigorous training program in order to qualify.
When a divorce case enters the mediation phase, it is typically done with the intent to resolve all issues that pertain to the divorce. This includes custody, property division, child support, and alimony. The overall process of divorce mediation can take up to five sessions or even longer. When working through a divorce case, the mediator will try to ensure that all parties are able to voice their concerns while simultaneously attempting to maintain an objective and neutral environment. This can help both sides attempt to reach a fair settlement for their divorce before the case can make it to court.
Sometimes a mediator may suggest alternatives to divorce, such as counseling if they feel it may be best. However, the overall intent is to settle or resolve the issues of the divorce without needing to enter the courtroom. Divorce mediation can become very emotional and sometimes hostile, especially if the spouses hold any resentment or if there is any history of violence between them. The mediator should be notified of these matters and will attempt to accommodate the needs of both parties.
Like divorce, issues of custody can be resolved through mediation as well. Through mediation, all issues of custody will be discussed. This includes child support, visitation, and scheduling of custodial time. New Jersey courts will typically require mediation for all custody issues prior to engaging with them in the courtroom. Custody mediation will typically have fewer issues to cover than a full divorce mediation and may not last as many sessions. After the process has finished, the mediator will suggest a custody agreement, and both parties may either bring it to the court for finalization or refuse the settlement and pursue the custody case in court. Prior to a mediation session, the parents of the child may be asked to draft their own ideal custody orders, so that the mediator may attempt to bring the two parents into agreement.
Support agreements, such as alimony and child support, can become particularly heated arguments between spouses or parents. As these matters directly pertain to a person's finances, these discussions tend to evoke a lot of stress between the parties involved. Through mediation, these orders can be discussed in a way that maintains fairness and adherence to New Jersey's own alimony and support guidelines. The mediator will attempt to focus on keeping these support items as objective as possible and provide potential agreements at the end of the session.
Advantages of Mediation Over Litigation
Mediation has some advantages over litigating your divorce and custody issues in court.
- Neutral Third Party While the easiest path during a divorce is often for you and your partner to agree to the terms of your divorce, division of assets, custody, financial support, and visitation, often a neutral third party can help. Whether you can't agree on any portion of your settlement or you're only divided on a few issues, a mediator can help the two of you look at the issue calmly and more objectively.
- Confidentiality Often mediation is more private and confidential than traditional litigation in an open courtroom. The parties can also agree to make discussions confidential, with evidence or documents exchanged protected from disclosure and not admissible in court.
- Cost Effectiveness Traditional litigation is expensive and often protracted. Mediation can happen more quickly and be less expensive, particularly if you and your ex-partner have a limited number of issues to resolve.
- Amicable Settlement A mediator does not have the power to order the parties to do anything, but they can help them come to a decision more amicably. Mediations offer a less formal setting with a neutral third party who can help defuse emotional arguments and help you both focus on objective goals and results.
- More Control Mediation can often be most effective because it gives you and your ex more control over the process and results. In courtroom litigation, you often have no control over the outcome, and frequently both parties are unhappy with the resulting court order. With mediation, the goal is to help you and your ex come to an agreement, giving both of you a say in the outcome.
When is Mediation Inappropriate?
In some cases, mediation may not be the best choice for you, particularly if you are experiencing ongoing domestic violence or abuse. Mediation may also be inappropriate if:
- There are any accusations of child abuse,
- One spouse has a great deal of power over the other, whether it is the result of bullying or domestic violence,
- If one spouse is hiding assets,
- If one spouse has a substance abuse or alcohol abuse disorder.
The point of mediation is for you and your ex to agree on matters involving divorce or custody mutually. That may not be possible in the above scenarios. The court typically won't order the parties to mediate if there's an active accusation of abuse or domestic violence. In other cases, one party can file a petition asking to be released from a mediation order. A mediator may stop the mediation if:
- There is abusive behavior happening during the mediation,
- The mediator can't overcome a power balance between the couple, or
- The mediator thinks mediation is no longer appropriate for another reason.
Can I Involve My Attorney in Mediation?
Mediation is typically a discussion between the parties involved in the matter at hand, with the mediator supervising. But many parties also opt to have their attorneys present and involved in the proceedings to protect their interests. The importance of having the counsel of an attorney should not be underestimated. Even if the matter can be resolved through a mediation session, an attorney can help protect your rights in the matter outside of the mediation room. Before a session, you and your attorney can discuss key points to highlight in the session and what to bring up during your time to speak. But the sooner an attorney is involved, the better. An attorney handling your case from the start will know the facts of your case, along with any potential difficulties that may come up in court.
While mediation can help resolve issues, when it fails, it may make an already difficult situation even worse. If the spouses or parents are unable to work through mediation, the matter must go to the courtroom for a full resolution. If you or a loved one needs help with a family law matter, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm online, or call them today at 888-535-3686.