After nearly 20 years as a New Jersey divorce attorney, one of the greatest developments in New Jersey divorce courts was been the advent of the Program for Mediation of Economic Aspects of Family Law Cases (i.e., Economic Mediation). As a busy New Jersey divorce lawyer, I have first hand knowledge that this program has averted many trials, saving the parties both immense legal fees and intense stress. So what is Economic Mediation? Let’s explore.
Economic Mediation is mandatory pursuant to a court order and takes place prior to a trial of the N.J. divorce case. The respective lawyers in the case review a list of court-approved Economic Mediators. All of the mediators are experienced New Jersey Divorce lawyers. A vast majority of the time the respective attorneys are able to agree on one of the mediators on the list. The first 2 hours are free and then the mediator bills their time on a previously agreed upon hourly rate. Both sides submit an Economic Statement with their respective opinions and then we have our first mediation session.
The first session usually begins with the mediator discussing the process to everyone. Then many times the mediator will chat with the attorneys alone in order to get a fell for what the “hot button” issues are versus the ones that should be easily handled. Sometimes everyone will all meet together in one large conference room. However, in truly high conflict cases, we may determine that it is best to keep the parties in separate rooms while the mediator bounces back and forth. Sometimes not having to look at your spouse makes tough decisions a little easier.
The primary reason that I find the Economic Mediation program to be so effective is the neutral role of the mediator. With emotions running high, many people have trouble thinking rationally and may have an unrealistic expectation as to what is a “fair” settlement. Simply put, they do not trust their spouse nor their attorney and many times people are hoping to hear “better news” than what their own New Jersey divorce attorney may be telling them. However, the mediator has no vested interest. He or she shall work very hard to help you resolve your case but at the end of the day, it is not their “trial” that they have to worry about. Therefore, both litigants’ seem to have more faith in this professional’s advise as to what a fair and equitable agreement truly is. The best mediators understand that a fair settlement usually leaves both spouses equally unhappy.
A final yet important thought. It is essential that if a global settlement is reached that the mediator and the attorneys draft a Memorandum of Understanding or (“MOU”) and this document shall be signed by both parties and their respective divorce lawyers. The MOU will confirm that the parties have an agreement with respect to all (at least all major) issues. This is essential as a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision confirmed that any settlement agreement, which was reached at economic mediation, must be written up and signed at the time of mediation. Otherwise, the settlement is not considered enforceable going forward. In the world of divorce, a handshake shall never suffice.
If you would like to speak to a New Jersey divorce attorney, please never hesitate to contact my office.