Ordinarily, New Jersey has one of the lowest divorce rates in the entire United States. However, that may change as a result of the increasing prevalence of COVID-19 throughout the state as unhappy couples who have been forced to coexist under the same roof due to lockdowns or changes in their work situations may be ready to end their marriages. However, some people may be unsure of the best option to take for dissolving a marriage. A divorce mediator might be the best next step.
The use of divorce mediation, which has long been a fairly popular method of coming to an accord on legal issues as equitable distribution, spousal and child support, and parenting rights without having to resort to what can often be a lengthy and divisive courtroom battle, has spiked during the pandemic. There are a few factors to consider when choosing which path your divorce should take.
While the costs of mediation would include paying for the mediator and, should you choose to have yours present or to give you guidance during the process, your attorney, you might still end up paying far less than you would if your case went all the way to a divorce trial in front of a family court judge. While divorce trials, in general, are rare, most cases are being resolved without having to go through one.
Additionally, since they will, for the near future, be conducted in a virtual setting, this means that all participants in the sessions can simply log on from their homes, including your respective family law attorneys. Thus, there is no need to pay for their travel time or any related expenses. Virtual meetings are generally cheaper than physical ones. While there are benefits to being physically in the courtroom in front of the judge, a remote hearing can save you both time and money during your divorce.
Covid-19 has understandably caused some significant delays in the divorce litigation process. Divorce mediation, however, provides a solution without your having to be affected by these delays. Because you and your estranged spouse are in control of making the decisions in your divorce agreement, there is no need to wait for a judge to give the final word. You and your estranged spouse also have the ability to weigh in on how many meetings you think you will need to have and how often they need to happen. Because these meetings are taking place virtually, it may also reduce the chances of scheduling conflicts between you and your estranged spouse, as well as your attorneys.
During the pandemic, it has become crucial to avoid physically being around other people as often as possible, especially for extended periods of time.
Divorce litigation often requires the parties to meet in person in the courtroom. Mediation, on the other hand, has widely shifted to online sessions, such as video calls or Zoom meetings. Individuals who are looking to have their marriages legally dissolved will need to spend less time meeting with their divorce attorney in person to prepare for a trial. In addition, certain court procedures that require in-person interaction, such as the use of witnesses and certain aspects of the discovery process, can be eliminated, which can further reduce the risk of transmission of the dangerous and often deadly virus. This not only keeps you safer, but it can also help to reduce the risk of exposure for your family members and other loved ones.
Aside from the timing, the cost, and the potential health risks, there are several more factors to consider when deciding whether to go with mediation over litigation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution for your divorce. Both you and your estranged spouse will need to agree to mediation for it to work, and thereafter, you will both need to agree on certain legal aspects of the divorce for it to produce a satisfactory resolution for both parties.
Both of you will need to agree on arrangements for child custody if you have children. If the two of you can agree on factors such as co-parenting, parenting time, and child support, negotiations can go smoothly during mediation sessions. Even if you do not necessarily agree on every aspect of your split, your attorney can help give some advice and make suggestions that work for everyone in the best interest of the child, which is the paramount factor in these types of matters.
Both of you will also need to be open about finances. The two of you will need to be willing to produce sensitive information about finances, such as bank accounts, retirement funds, and other marital assets as well as debts. While it is common for one spouse to be more involved with family finances, you should both also have a good understanding of where you stand financially in order to ensure that the finalized agreements are fair.
Unfortunately, mediation will not work for every person seeking to end their marriage. In such cases, litigation or a different form of dispute resolution may be the better course of action. You may want to consider a different format for your divorce if:
You disagree about child custody – If you and the other parent do not agree on child custody and parenting time terms, the mediation sessions can quickly become contentious. In such cases, your divorce may need to escalate to litigation, where a judge will make the final decisions with the best interests of the child in mind.
Your marriage involves domestic violence – If your marriage contains history of domestic abuse or violence, mediation likely will not work for your specific case. In such cases, the victim may agree to certain terms out of fear or intimidation. Additionally, mediation requires both parties to meet on a regular basis, which can cause additional trauma or harm to the victim.
You suspect your spouse is hiding assets – In order for them to be successful, mediation sessions rely on both of you to be forthcoming about your individual and marital finances. If you suspect that your estranged spouse may be trying to hide assets from you, you may need a more formal discovery process that is offered during divorce litigation proceedings. Likewise, if you do not have a good understanding of your joint finances, it may be easier for the other party to take advantage of that, resulting in a divorce agreement that is unsatisfactory for you.
The desire to divorce is not mutual – If you want a divorce but your spouse does not, mediation may not be the best course of action for you. It can cause negotiations to be difficult and can lead to contention. More formal litigation proceedings may be a better fit for these situations.
Any divorce can be stressful and emotionally taxing. Mediation sessions, however, can provide a much less adversarial way to come to an accord on the applicable legal issues when you and your spouse agree to be honest, open, and forthcoming on the matters that have caused your marriage to come to an end.
To learn more about how a divorce mediator can help you, contact Lawrence Law with locations in Red Bank and Watchung, New Jersey, at (908) 645-1000.
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