Family Mediation: Not Just for Divorce

In recent years, the popularity of mediation for divorce has skyrocketed. People have learned that mediation can often save time and money, while also preserving harmony among family members. Many people still do not know, however, that family mediation is not just for divorce. It can be useful in addressing many types of conflict. Here are a few examples:

Parents Providing Financial Support to Adult Children

Parents often continue providing financial support to young adult children. While this is generally a voluntary and loving gesture, it can also cause severe financial stress. This is especially true for parents struggling to save for retirement or trying to help their own elderly parents as well.

There is no broad obligation for New Jersey parents to continue supporting adult children. There may, however, be some obligation for divorced parents to support mentally or physically incapacitated adult children. Some divorced parents may also be obligated to support children who are pursuing post-secondary education, potentially until the child’s 23rd birthday. All child support terminates automatically when a child reaches age 23. Under some circumstances, however, adult children who continue to need financial assistance can seek a court order for another form of financial maintenance or parental reimbursement. The court can also convert a child support obligation to another form of financial maintenance based on “exceptional circumstances including, but not limited to, a mental or physical disability.” NJSA §2A:17-56.67.1. e.

Ideally, parents will address college payments or disability support during divorce. If issues remain open, or if either parent’s ability to contribute has changed, mediation can help. For disabled adult children, important topics for discussion include the child’s ability to live independently and pursue employment, any public support available, and whether a special needs trust might be appropriate. For children pursuing secondary education, topics should include the child’s educational goals; all estimated costs of the education; current and future savings plans; the child’s and each parent’s expected contributions; and mechanics of payment. The New Jersey Supreme Court set out factors to consider in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 545 (1982). Children who are old enough can participate in all or part of the mediation process.

 Adult Children Who Outstay Their Welcome

In July of 2020, a Pew survey estimated that “more than half of Americans between age 18 and 29”were living with one or both parents.” Some young adults lost jobs during the pandemic, and some are living at home with their parents’ blessings. Parents are often happy to help out when children are still attending school or are trying to save up enough money to go out on their own amid sky-high rental costs.  When parents disagree with each other or with their child about living arrangements, however, it’s a sign that something needs to change.

A healthy adult child does not have a right to remain in your home if you have asked them to leave. In a recent New York case, the parents of 30-year-old Michael Rotondo were forced to resort to a court proceeding after their repeated requests for him to find another place to live went unheeded. The judge sided with the parents and ordered Michael to vacate the premises.

Naturally most parents will consider kicking a child out of their home only as a last resort. Family mediation is a good step to try first. A mediator can help you work out a written agreement that sets out appropriate steps and a realistic plan for the child to become self-supporting. If your child refuses to abide by the agreements, the safest approach is to follow proper eviction procedures. You can find more information from the self-help resources at New Jersey Courts or from an attorney.

Estate Disputes or Estate Planning

Mediation can also be a good option when disputes develop after the death of a family member or friend. For example, when someone believes a will is invalid or a decedent lacked capacity. Someone may believe that a decedent intended to leave them specific property, and this is not reflected in the will or trust. Sometimes family members believe that the decedent’s property has been distributed inequitably.

Families can also use mediation is estate planning. Married spouses sometimes disagree about how they wish to distribute their estate. Divorcing spouses may want to include estate planning as part of divorce mediation. If one divorced spouse wants to continue providing for the other in a will or trust, the parties must have a written agreement setting out any rights retained. N.J.S.A. 3B:3-14.

Divorcing spouses with adult children who would not be covered by child support orders sometimes want to protect those children financially. For example, they may want the other spouse to purchase a life insurance policy naming the children as beneficiaries. They may want to make gifts to children, fund trusts to protect their inheritances, or establish an alimony trust for assets such as money, real property or business equity. The income from an alimony trust is designated as support for the former spouse, who also pays taxes on it, and the assets then pass to the children after the spouse’s death.

Elder Care

Family disputes revolving around elder care can be heart-wrenching. Adult children may need help communicating with elderly parents about how best to help them manage their finances and healthcare. Disputes also often develop between siblings.

According to the New York Times,  almost 40% of adult children caring for  a parent report a major conflict with a sibling. Common disagreements include the right way to handle finances; which child should have more responsibility and control; appropriate healthcare decisions; how to ensure that a parent is complying with treatment and medication schedules; and whether the parent can still live independently. Birth order and geographic closeness or distance can create assumptions or even revive old childhood rivalries. Mediation is an ideal forum for addressing such disputes.

Our experienced family mediators can provide you with more information. Take advantage of our initial consultation and contact us today.