Due to mediation’s many benefits, it has become an integral part of the court’s divorce process. There are two types of court-mandated mediation in New Jersey. Courts will often mandate it at some point during a couple’s divorce proceedings, either to attempt to settle custody and parenting time, economic issues, or both.
How does mediation come into the process of divorce?
When parties file a complaint for divorce in New Jersey indicating a dispute related to custody and parenting time, the court will order the couple to appear without their attorneys for a mediation session with a New Jersey court-appointed mediator at no cost to the couple.
The primary goal of the court-appointed mediator is to help the couple reach an agreement that works for both. It is an opportunity for the parents to make decisions about their children between them instead of having the court make those decisions.
If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a document outlining the terms and provisions that the parents have agreed to. If the parents have attorneys, the mediator will also provide this document to the attorneys for them to discuss with their clients.
After a formal agreement takes place, the mediator formalizes the outline, which then becomes a Consent Order signed by the parents, their attorneys and the judge. The couple or their attorneys must file this signed document with the court, after which it becomes binding.
If the couple has disagreements about financial issues after attending the court-mandated early settlement panel, which is another opportunity the court provides for the couple to reach an agreement, the court will order that the parties attend mediation with a New Jersey economic mediator. The parties’ attorneys often participate in these mediations.
The mediator will attempt to facilitate a conversation between the parties to reach an agreement about their finances. While the mediator does not make decisions for the parties, the mediator reviews the parties’ financial documents and may request information from the parties. This mediation is free of charge for the first two hours. If the couple needs more time, they must pay the mediator directly at the mediator’s hourly rate.
If the couple reaches an agreement, the mediator will draft an outline of a Memorandum of Understanding and send it to the parties’ attorneys for confirmation. After that, the attorneys formalize the outline into a Consent Order that the parties must sign, along with their attorneys. The Memorandum of Understanding is fully enforceable after the couple signs it and files it with the court for the judge’s signature.
What is the difference between court-mandated mediation and private divorce mediation?
The divorcing couple can choose private mediation anytime during the divorce process if the couple wants to. If they choose this route, they avoid the court process altogether. The parties can still have attorneys if they choose this method. Still, private mediation provides benefits that are not available if the couple decides to go through the court process, such as:
- Mediation is less time-consuming, and the process is often much faster.
- Mediation is more cost-effective, even if the parties hire attorneys to assist them.
- Mediation is an opportunity for the parties to make decisions for themselves.
- Mediation is confidential, and everything discussed within mediation remains confidential.
- Mediation is non-binding. However, if the parties reach an agreement that they are satisfied with, it can be official. The parties must sign the document and file it with the court, and that document becomes binding.
Whether court-mandated or done privately, mediation offers an alternative to the traditional adversarial divorce process and is highly effective. It primarily allows the parties to make decisions for themselves instead of someone else making decisions for them.