How Can I Resolve My Divorce without a Trial in New Jersey?

The term “divorce” may conjure up images of witness testimony, court room warring, and heated debates over issues ranging from finances to child custody. Although these highly contentious and often lengthy battles do occur, your divorce need not necessarily proceed on the path that you initially envision. In fact, New Jersey has created a variety of alternatives to this “trial by fire” strategy, providing divorcing spouses with a host of options from which to choose. Often, these alternative routes are more desirable, as they represent more efficient, cost-effective, and peaceful scenarios that allow you to retain as much control over the process as possible.

“Alternative Dispute Resolution” refers to a variety of processes that allow participating parties to resolve disputes without trial. Among the most common of alternative dispute resolutions are:

  • Mediation: an objective party called a “mediator” assists both parties in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution on issues including alimony, division of assets, child custody, and child support. The mediator does not come to his or her own decision, but facilitates communication among the parties to reach an agreement themselves.
  • Arbitration: a neutral third-party called an “arbitrator” is tasked with hearing arguments and evidence from each side before determining an appropriate resolution. Arbitration involves a similar procedure to trial but is far less formal and the rules of evidence are more relaxed. In contrast to mediation, both parties agree to abide by the decision of the arbitrator, meaning that his or her final determination is legally binding.
  • Collaborative Divorce: this relatively new “team” approach to resolving divorces involves the assembly of a team of people, each of whom works with the others to reach an amicable decision. Collaborative divorces often include the divorcing spouses, each of their attorneys, and other professionals who provide valuable insight into issues such as finances and child custody arrangements.

Although the above alternatives can be chosen by both spouses, there are several other options which the State may require you to participate in before your case proceeds to trial. These include:

  • Early Settlement Panel Program: if both parties cannot reach a settlement regarding finances, the spouses and their respective attorneys appear before an Early Settlement Panel, which is typically composed of two unrelated attorneys who evaluate the circumstances of the case and provide recommendations for an appropriate solution. If the parties cannot agree on an appropriate resolution during this phase, they proceed to Economic Mediation.
  • Economic Mediation: after consulting with your attorney, your spouse, and his or her attorney, you will choose an economic mediator who will evaluate your financial situation and provide recommendations as to a fair and equitable arrangement. These recommendations are not binding in any way and if a settlement cannot be reached, a trial date will be scheduled.

Although all of the above avenues may serve to benefit you, your spouse, your children, and other relevant parties such as business associates and employees, they are certainly not suitable to every situation. In cases where trial is simply the only viable option, it is essential to have a knowledgeable, experienced, and proactive divorce attorney who will vigorously protect and advocate for your interests during litigation.

If you are considering a divorce in New Jersey, have recently initiated the divorce process, or are seeking a post-divorce modification, feel free to contact my offices anytime at (908) 481-4625 for an initial consultation. I am always available to answer your questions.