Mediation can be either private or court-ordered. In certain situations, courts may order parties to mediate all or part of a dispute. In New Jersey, the law generally requires divorcing spouses to mediate both economic disputes and custody or parenting-time disputes at some point before going to trial. While processes are similar in court-mandated mediation and private mediation, private mediation affords many more flexible options.
Regardless of whether you mediate your dispute pursuant to court order or choose private mediation, you will be assisted by a “mediator,” who acts as a neutral facilitator. The mediator helps you reach your own agreements without making any decisions for you. For an overview of the mediation process in general, see What is Mediation – an Overview
Scope of Private Mediation
While court-ordered processes often focus on only one aspect of a divorce case, in private mediation you will have the option of addressing limited issues or trying to settle your entire divorce case. Many couples have used private mediation to settle every aspect of their divorce. You and your spouse can use mediation to address any issue, including:
- dividing marital assets and debts,
- negotiating alimony,
- negotiating many aspects of child support, and
- building a mutually acceptable parenting plan.
If you are not successful at resolving every issue in your case, you can still proceed to court. Removing even one issue from a litigated case can result in time and cost-savings.
Private Mediation and Timing
One of the major benefits of choosing private mediation is that you can start the process at any time, whether before filing a court case, during the course of an ongoing case, or even after receiving a final judgment of divorce.
- Before a Divorce Petition. Choosing mediation at this early stage can pave the way for an uncontested divorce, eliminating most of the stress and expense of litigation.
- During a Divorce Case.If one of you has already filed a divorce petition, you can put your court case on hold while you follow through with private mediation, creating another route toward uncontested divorce.
- Post-Divorce. If you already have a judgment of divorce, either with a marital settlement agreement or with court orders pertaining to matters such as child custody and visitation or alimony and child support payments, private mediation offers a cost-effective and civilized forum for pursuing enforcement or modification of your orders or agreement. You and your former spouse can agree on modifications to the terms of your settlement agreement without the need for a court appearance. If you reach agreement about modifying a court order, a court will often accept your proposal.
Choosing a Private Mediator
In court-ordered mediation, you will generally select a mediator off of a court-approved list. In private mediation, you can choose any mediator, provided that both you and your spouse are happy with the selection. You will want to be sure to choose someone that both of you feel comfortable with personally, as well as someone with specific training and experience in family law mediation. For more information, see: How to Choose a Mediator.