Mediation can be highly effective for resolving issues in divorce, and it’s also a great option for addressing post-divorce issues. Fortunately, couples who use mediation to negotiate Marital Settlement Agreements (MSA’s) tend to have few post-divorce disagreements. Those who receive orders after contentious court procedures may be more likely to continue to fight over those orders. Whether you originally participated in divorce mediation or not, however, you are free to go to a mediator to resolve any post-divorce disagreements. Such disagreements tend to concern isolated matters which can be resolved in one or two mediation sessions, presenting a much cheaper and less stressful alternative to court.
Planning Ahead to Avoid Future Problems
Sometimes reaching a permanent solution to all your issues in divorce can be a challenge. This is particularly true for self-employed or career-changing individuals who have difficulty forecasting future incomes. It can also be true for couples with young children who wish to evolve their child custody and support agreements over time. If you are currently in divorce mediation, you can draft your MSA to specify that both of you will attempt to negotiate in good faith and mediate any post-divorce issues before filing papers in court. Some couples even agree to meet with a mediator once a year for a certain period of time following their divorce to resolve issues going forward. Most, however, reserve future mediation for substantial changes only.
Agreeing to go to a mediator instead of a judge provides a measure of security. Still, it’s best to address potential changes in circumstances up front whenever possible. On the whole, people feel more able to move on and begin anew when they have settled things for good, minimizing any need for ongoing interaction with a former spouse.
Identifying Modifiable Matters
The terms of your divorce orders or MSA may affect your ability to modify certain matters. In general, however, you can make changes to the following after divorce:
Even when divorcing parents try to anticipate children’s future needs, unexpected things can come up. Children’s interests and extracurricular activities may change; one or both parents might experience changes in employment responsibilities; one parent may wish a child to change schools while the other doesn’t; one or both parents might remarry; or one parent may even wish to relocate out of the area. Mediation can help parents decide how to address such situations with a minimum of conflict.
Child support is always modifiable if circumstances change. This is because the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines maintain that children must not be the economic victims of divorce. They are entitled to share in the current income of both parents, regardless of which parent has custody. Some of the circumstances that may warrant a change in child support include the following:
- Significant change in either parent’s income,
- Significant change in the physical custody arrangement,
- Emancipation of a child,
- A child begins attending college, or
- A child becomes a teenager.
Ideally parents will address some or all of these potentialities in an initial parenting plan. Even if they attempt to be very thorough, however, unanticipated situations can come up.
Unless your MSA includes an informed waiver of alimony or waiver of the right to modify alimony, you can adjust most types of alimony if circumstances substantially change. Modification may be justified if a change affects either the financial need of the supported party or the ability of the supporting party to pay.
In some cases, parties can anticipate potential changes in a supported spouse’s income and build these into the original alimony order or agreement. Alimony can start at a certain amount for an initial period of months or years and then decrease once the supported spouse is able to become employed. These things can be difficult to predict accurately, however. If there is a substantial difference between your initial plan and what actually occurs, then a change might be in order. Another reason for renegotiating support may be the supported spouse’s maintenance of a serious romantic relationship. If the supported spouse remarries, spousal support generally ends entirely. If, however, the spouse simply becomes partially reliant on the income of a new partner, renegotiating support could prevent a protracted court battle.
If one party refuses to comply with a post-divorce order, mediation will not necessarily be helpful. Sometimes, however, parties disagree about exactly what an order means, in which case a mediator may be able to help. While court orders addressing property distribution are not generally modifiable, sometimes both parties agree that the orders do not provide the best method for carrying out the distribution. This sometimes happens, for example, when a court orders the sale or refinancing of a family home. Mediation can help both parties craft a revised solution that better meets their needs.
If you and your former spouse can reach an agreement regarding your issues, your mediator can prepare a draft consent order to submit to the court. It’s always a good idea for each of you to have an independent attorney review the draft order before submitting it. This can help ensure that you are not compromising your legal rights, and that your new agreement is enforceable.
Are you interested in talking to one of our experienced mediators about a post-divorce issue? Contact us today for an initial consultation.