Just last week, Governor Chris Christie signed into law amendments that drastically alter New Jersey alimony laws. As alimony is always red-hot issue wherein emotions usually run high. However, the Governor also altered New Jersey divorce law when he signed the New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act. Let’s explore.
When people hear the phrase “collaborative law” the first thing that generally comes to mind is the idea of working together. Simply put, that is exactly what collaborative law really is. It is an alternative type of way to resolve a New Jersey divorce matter. The reason why many couples are leaning toward collaborative law these days is because it is not as expensive and length as litigation. The parties will retain a lawyer to resolve issues like child custody and distribution of the assets just as in a regular divorce; however, the lawyer will be non-adversarial as the goal is to resolve the contested issues quickly, calmly, and without court intervention (and without high emotions.
While collaborative law can be extremely beneficial to parties seeking a New Jersey divorce, it can be viewed in the negative when comparing it to other forms of alternative dispute resolution techniques. I find that collaborative law can be, at many times, more expensive than mediation. Nonetheless, it is still an increasingly popular method being utilized throughout the nation. In 2009, the Uniform Collaborative Law Act was adopted by the Uniform Law Commission, which meant that the individual states could begin to enact collaborative law acts as well. And on September 10, 2014, New Jersey did just that.
The process of engaging in collaborative law starts off by the parties signing a participation agreement. This is basically a written contract, in which both parties expressly consent to using collaborative law to resolve their contested issues. Pursuant to Subsection 5(a) of the Act, there are many requirements of the participation agreement.
1. The participation agreement must be in a record;
2. The participation agreement has to be signed in writing by each of the parties involved;
3. The participation agreement must clearly state each of the parties’ intent (what they each want to accomplish by the end of the collaborative law process);
4. The participation agreement must clearly articulate the contested issues;
5. The participation agreement must clearly state who the family lawyer will be and define his or her limited role in the process;
6. The participation agreement must lay forth the terms for beginning and ending the collaborative law process;
7. The participation agreement must highlight the importance of confidentiality throughout the process;
8. The participation agreement must remind the lawyer that he or she is governed by the New Jersey Court Rules and Rules of Professional Conduct when engaging in the collaborative law process.
Important as well, the Act states that the collaborative family law process will be over if the issues have been fully resolved or if the process is terminated. Subsection 7(b) highlights the situations in which the process can be terminated as follows:
1. If either party provides notice in a record that the process is over…NOTE: the parties can do this with or without cause;
2. If a party files a document to initiate a proceeding without the other party knowing 3. If either party gets a temporary restraining order;
4. If an action begins requesting a tribunal grant emergency relief to protect the health, safety, welfare or interest of either party;
5. If either party fires the collaborative law lawyer or the lawyer chooses to ethically withdraw;
6. If either party fails to provide disclosure of information related to the contested issues without formal discovery.
While I have only highlighted a few of the key provisions of this newly enacted law, please do not hesitate to contact my office today with any further questions. Thank you.