In recent weeks, the Administrative Office of the Courts has released its statistics, and the news is not surprising. The courts in New Jersey are facing an unprecedented backlogs, and the Family Court has been hit particularly hard.

For those facing divorce, custody issues, post judgment issues, or any family matter, there are alternatives to consider.

Mediation is a process in which the parties hire a neutral individual who has been trained, and certified as a mediator to help them reach a resolution. In family law cases, the mediator is typically someone who has had significant experience practicing family law, or may be a retired family court judge. The mediator does not advocate for either party nor does the mediator give legal advice.. After the parties reach an agreement, the mediator typically prepares an agreement and advises the parties to seek their own separate lawyers to review the agreement, and make sure it is fair for both of them. Then, one of the parties will typically have their attorneys provide the agreement to the court, and in the case of the divorce, obtain the official judgment of divorce. In certain cases, such as ones in which there are complex issues, mediation will be conducted with each person having their own attorney participate as well.

Arbitration is a process by which the parties agree to have their disputes heard, and decided by a decision-maker who has been trained and certified as an arbitrator by the New Jersey Bar Association, American arbitration Association, or other organization providing training and certification. The arbitrator in family law matters is typically a lawyer who has had many years of experience in family law, or is a retired family law judge. The parties to the dispute often have a lawyer and the proceeding is similar to a court proceeding, although the parties are able to agree upon the formality of the process. An arbitrator’s decision is usually binding although the parties can agree to an appeal process. One of the most important benefits of arbitration is that unlike a case in the Superior Court, the arbitrator is only dealing with one case during the time that he or she is presiding. In the Superior Court, a trial may be on a judge’s calendar for a certain day, but that judge is almost always interrupted with emergency matters which shorten the time the judge has to address the case at hand. Arbitrating a case results in attorneys not having to spend significant time, and a client’s money waiting to be heard.

Collaborative law is a process by which the parties to a family law matter agree to settle their case without turning to the court system for the resolution of disputes. Collaborative cases take a “team” approach, where each party has their own lawyer, but the purpose is to act as a team in order to reach the best resolution for the family. There are two ways that make the collaborative process particularly unique. The first is when the parties agree to engage in the collaborative process, they are committing that they will not leave the process for litigation. In other words, if the going gets tough, the tough stay. If a party elects to leave the collaborative process, then that person has to obtain brand new counsel. This is because an essential part of the agreement is to remain in the collaborative process. The second unique characteristic is that there is typically a mental health professional who is part of the team, and a financial expert as well. These people guide both parties towards a resolution that is best for the entire family.