What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a process where a neutral party helps a couple work out the terms of their divorce. The third party, a certified mediator, does not make any decisions. Rather, the mediator works with the couple, guiding their discussions and helping them focus on solutions that preserve the value of the marital estate, are fair to both spouses, and are in the best interests of their children. It is the mediator’s job to provide a calm, professional presence in an emotionally difficult situation
Mediation is a private process. Typically the spouses will sign a contract agreeing to keep the discussions confidential. The discussions will not be admitted as evidence in any later court appearances.
Each divorce agreement is unique. The length of the mediation process depends on the complexity of issues involved and how far the spouses are from agreement. Mediation begins with a series of meetings including both spouses and the mediator. The number and length of meetings will vary. Divorce is a difficult process, always following the pain and disappointment of a failed marriage. It is common for spouses to place irrational importance on small issues, or fail to see the burden a custody battle will place on their children. The mediator will help them refocus on important issues and put others in perspective. It is necessary that both spouses be willing to put forth an honest effort to reach an agreement. If one or both are seriously combative, mediation will not be an effective solution.
You may still have an attorney review your agreement. When the couple has reached agreement on some or all issues, the mediator will prepare related documents to be submitted to the court as part of the final divorce proceedings. Many mediators recommend that their clients engage separate attorneys to review the agreements before finalization. Although that is not required by the court, it provides an additional layer of protection for each party. It is an economical alternative to working through the agreement process with your attorney present.
New Jersey divorce courts support mediated settlements. A mediated agreement is generally considered superior to a decision rendered by a judge. Both parties have invested time and emotional energy in reaching common ground. The mediator has helped them work out reasonable agreements and get past apparent roadblocks. With few exceptions, judges approve the agreements.
New Jersey courts recognize mediated property settlements and child support agreements, although a child support agreement may be reviewed if there is a question about the child’s welfare. In a related process, collaborative divorce, each party is represented by separate counsel, and the mediation process may involve a child psychologist, property evaluator and other experts. Some collaborative divorce lawyers, as part of their commitment to mediation, refuse to later represent their clients in litigation.