The divorce process can be a contentious one. This is because it involves the equitable distribution of assets and property by the divorcing couple, and could potentially involve child custody and support issues, so it can be a very emotional process for those involved. While parties can choose to go in front of a judge to decide these issues, there are a growing number of alternatives available to reduce the burden on the parties which can help them come to a mutual agreement before presenting their divorce case to the court.

Mediation is one of those alternatives. Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral party assists the divorcing parties in negotiating their differences with an eye towards resolution and settlement. More specifically, mediation is an informal, out-of-court process which allows the parties to come to a mutual understanding on certain issues typically present in divorce cases, without unnecessary and time-consuming litigation in a courtroom. While a mediator has no authority to force or enforce a settlement, they serve as a catalyst for dialogue between the parties – a dialogue that may otherwise not occur during the divorce.

There are several benefits to mediation. A key advantage is that a mediator can explore the underlying background and emotional history in a case far more than a judge can or would, allowing the mediator to get to the root of the underlying conflict. A judge’s job is to look at the facts and law that can be applied to a case. A mediator, on the other hand, will spend significantly more time with the divorcing parties and may be able to address areas of conflict that a judge cannot.

Ideally, mediation is an opportunity for the parties to address all their desires and hash out their differences more comprehensively than any court could offer. Mediation is beneficial because, in a majority of family law disputes, it is better for parties to decide the outcome for themselves than to have a judge make the final decision, simply because the parties know themselves and what they want more than any judge could.

There is virtually no limit to the issues that can be discussed during mediation. Sometimes, parties do not realize the complexity of their marriage (and therefore, their divorce) until it is time to discuss a settlement. During mediation, parties can discuss as many issues as they want. They can talk about tax exemptions, parenting time, division of property, potential property sales, religious upbringing of their children, college contribution for the children, and almost any other issue arising out of the marriage. The more issues that are discussed, the more likely it is that the settlement reached by the parties accurately reflects each party’s interests.

If a settlement is reached during mediation, the parties’ attorneys can use this settlement to draft a Property Settlement Agreement or Martial Settlement Agreement, which can then be presented to the court for entry along with the Judgment of Divorce.

Because every divorce is different, the issues discussed during mediation will vary widely. It is important that those considering a divorce contact an experienced south Jersey family law attorney that can initiate the mediation process as well as ensure that any settlement reached during mediation is property executed.