Despite its high taxes, congested roadways and gridlocked state government, New Jersey will always have a special place in our hearts.
It’s where we were both born and raised and where our divorce mediation practice was founded. For a decade, we’ve been privately helping NJ families avoid the destruction of attorney-driven divorces.
We enjoy practicing in New Jersey as it’s not only where we’re from and where we got started, but it’s also a “mediation first” state. Private mediators like us, judges, and even many lawyers - are all supportive of mediation for divorce in NJ.
In fact, it’s rare that a divorce case ever gets into a courtroom for trial. It's estimated that only 2% of New Jersey divorces ever go to full litigation.
That confirms what we already know - for divorce in NJ, mediation works!
In New Jersey, we meet with couples in the following locations:
We can also meet with couples by appointment in Princeton and Cherry Hill.
If meeting with us face-to-face is challenging due to personal or professional demands, one party lives out of state, or you’re simply not located near one of our local locations, you can still work with us using our innovative online divorce mediation program.
If you and your spouse have agreed to divorce, NJ is where you live and you both want to mediate, book an initial meeting for the two of you.
In NJ, divorce mediation may be conducted privately or publicly, depending on whether you and your spouse choose to mediate first or hire attorneys first.
If you take the preferred path and choose to mediate first, you would hire private divorce mediators like us, typically before you file with the courts.
Together we would identify, discuss, negotiate and resolve all of the issues surrounding your divorce privately, confidentially and without the use of attorneys, if you so choose.
On the other hand, if you choose to go the attorney route first, you'd likely be sent to court-ordered mediation.
Yes, you read that correctly – NJ has court-ordered mediation whereby you’ll be required to engage in custody and parenting time mediation and economic issue mediation which are both offered through the state.
And while we’re always supportive of couples who use this alternative dispute resolution process, no matter what route they took to get there, there are a number of shortcomings with going the court-ordered mediation route:
For couples with no children or grown children, there are two main issues that need to be resolved in a New Jersey divorce. For couples with minor children, there are four:
In New Jersey, issues of parenting responsibilities and timesharing are agreed upon and drafted into the parenting plan.
The parenting plan covers all aspects of how you will co-parent your children once you’re divorced including where the children will spend nights, weekends, and holidays, as well as how you and your ex will engage in decision making on matters such as education, religion, and medical issues to name but a few.
Because there is very little guidance on how to create a balanced and effective parenting plan, the help of an experienced and professional mediator is critical in this very gray area.
To learn more about how parenting plans work and why they’re the most important issue you’ll face in your divorce, please read: Divorce with Kids: The Importance of a Good Parenting Plan.
Here in the United States, all 50 states are required to have some sort of repeatable method for determining child support known as a child support guideline.
How child support is determined varies greatly state-by-state, and each state’s model produces a significantly different result. That’s why you must follow the New Jersey child support guidelines and not one from another state.
New Jersey uses something called the “income-shares” model which uses a number of factors to determine a basic child support amount, and allocates a portion of that amount to each parent. It is non-taxable, and the basic child support amount in NJ excludes a number of other “extraordinary expenses” such as college, and extracurricular activities, which must be negotiated separately.
Determining child support in New Jersey is not as simple as running a calculator and coming up with an amount, as there is a lot left out of the child support guidelines in NJ. That’s why it’s important to work with a mediator with a financial background - to ensure your children get the financial support they need and don’t become the economic victims of your divorce.
To learn more about how child support works in New Jersey, please read: Ensuring Your Children's Well-Being with Child Support in NJ.
In New Jersey, the payment of money from one ex-spouse to another is called spousal support. Some states refer to this as alimony, maintenance or spousal maintenance.
Spousal support in NJ is the exact opposite of child support.
There is no guideline or repeatable method for determining it; it is to be used by the recipient spouse to assist with their expenses and not the children’s, and it is a taxable event.
If ever there was an issue that NJ couples fight over, it’s spousal support.
But just because there isn’t a guideline or other repeatable way to determine spousal support, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are a number of ways we help New Jersey couples resolve this difficult and emotional issue, and have been doing so with great success for many years.
To learn more about how spousal support works in New Jersey, please read: Determining Alimony in New Jersey.
Equitable distribution is the process by which divorcing couples divide their marital assets and liabilities. And is typically the last issue a mediating couple will need to discuss and resolve in their New Jersey divorce.
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state. Meaning couples can come to any agreement they find “fair and equitable” when it comes to dividing their marital assets and liabilities. NJ is not a community property state where assets and liabilities would be split 50-50.
And just like spousal support, there is very little in the way of determining what’s fair.
As you can imagine, if couples aren’t working with an experienced mediator with a financial background, this part of the divorce process can not only prove difficult, but costly, as there are a significant number of mistakes that can be made during this part of the process.
Determining what marital property is, what’s the difference between marital and pre-marital property, and what factors are taken into account when discussing equitable distribution all factor into the negotiations.
To learn more about how equitable distribution works in New Jersey, please read: Equitable Distribution in New Jersey.
You did your homework, researched your options, and can now say with certainty mediation is the way you and your spouse wish to pursue your divorce in NJ.
Good for you!
You obviously know that involving lawyers in your divorce negotiations can cause a lot of damage to you, your children and your settlement and you’re not willing to gamble with your future.
But while choosing mediation is a smart decision and an excellent first step, there’s something else you need to do in order to have a successful divorce in New Jersey:
You need to make sure you have a high quality divorce mediation.
In this section, you’ll learn:
This way, you’ll be armed with the tools and knowledge you need to have the successful and high quality divorce mediation you want and deserve.
Ready to get educated?
Let’s dive in…
There are five characteristics of a high quality divorce mediation in New Jersey:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these and learn how having a highly skilled mediator can make all the difference between engaging in a basic mediation versus a high quality divorce mediation.
There’s no question that going through a divorce is one of the single most stressful events you will ever experience.
Experts say it runs second in stress only to the death of a loved one or parent.
But that doesn’t mean you have to add to that stress by engaging in highly contentious divorce negotiations. Doing so is not only detrimental to your physical and mental health, but will also prevent you from making the sound and rational decisions necessary to complete your divorce and ensure your financial future.
If your mediation proceedings get out of hand because the mediator you’re working with doesn’t have the experience to manage the unique interpersonal dynamic between you and your spouse, you’re going to find yourself spending extra time and money in mediation trying to resolve the issues.
Or worse yet, hiring divorce attorneys and going to court.
Working with a highly skilled mediator will ensure that your sessions are conducted in an environment of mutual respect and dignity. There’s no room for name calling, verbal or physical abuse or dirty-tricks when working with a highly skilled mediator.
A highly skilled mediator will know how to manage the room, make sure each of you are heard and validated and be able to keep the proceedings from going off track and ending up in litigation.
He may even wind up improving communications between you and your spouse. Which is especially critical if you have children and want to be good co-parents.
Having a peaceful divorce mediation NJ leads to a number of other positive benefits as well.
Couples who negotiate in an environment of mutual respect and dignity create agreements that are more likely to be fair and equitable, thorough, cost-effective and child-focused.
All components of a high quality divorce mediation.
Guess you can see why peaceful is listed first!
When you and your spouse got married, in addition to the romantic bond you created, you also created a legal bond.
This bond allowed you to accumulate joint property and debts, file income taxes together and perhaps even become co-legal guardians of any children you had together.
Who knew those two simple words “I do” would weave such a tangled web!
Now that you’re seeking a divorce, you and your spouse will need to create a highly complex agreement that outlines in great detail how you intend on untangling that web. And that defines your respective financial and parental responsibilities moving forward.
There are three components that make up a thorough agreement:
The first is ensuring the four main topics of divorce (parenting plan, child support, spousal support and equitable distribution) are not only addressed but that they are addressed comprehensively.
To demonstrate what that means, consider this parenting plan example:
Beth and Mike were a divorcing interfaith couple – Beth was Jewish and Mike was Catholic. They were relatively civil to each other and before starting divorce mediation, had some discussions about their parenting plan and thought they had it “all worked out.”
They decided that the kids would spend their time equally between each parent’s residences: Beth's in Bridgewater and Mike's in Morristown.
Beth and Mike just wanted to get the divorce over and done with as quickly as possible.
A basic mediator may have been satisfied with the arrangement the two parents made with regard to timesharing and let it go at that.
But a highly skilled NJ mediator would have known to ask more questions.
What if Beth kept kosher but Mike, her soon-to-be-ex didn’t? How that would be handled since the kids were going to spend 50% of their time at Mike’s place?
What religion or religions would the kids be raised following? What holidays would the children observe? And what would happen if down the road they want to convert from one parent’s religion to the other?
What if they were being raised Jewish? Could the kids put up a Christmas tree in dad’s house? Open Christmas gifts? Go to Christmas dinner at dad’s family’s house?
A highly skilled mediator knows there’s a lot more ground to cover beyond just the number of nights and weekends the kids will be sleeping at a particular parent’s house.
A highly skilled New Jersey mediator takes the time to ask the questions you and your spouse don’t even know need asking in order to create a comprehensive parenting plan that works for your family.
Next are the myriad of other issues that are not a standard part of the four main topics previously mentioned.
Issues surrounding taxation and tax optimization, support modification, relocation, cohabitation - the list goes on and on...
Most mediators either skimp on details about these matters or don’t even address them at all. Leading to problems down the road when something comes up and your agreement offers no guidance on what to do in that particular situation.
A highly skilled mediator will help you avoid all of that by ensuring that all basic as well as not-so-basic issues are addressed and clearly spelled out in your divorce agreement.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure your agreement will stand the test of time because guess what?
Kids grow up. People move. Sell houses.
Most mediators don’t do much in the way of addressing future issues.
They simply address the issues that are in front of them at the time and nothing more. They may add language that says the parties agree to “work it out” should something change in the future but that’s about it.
On the other hand, a highly skilled mediator will craft language that lets you know what to do now as well as in the short, medium and long-term future as things change.
Just because they’re not ready to go to college at this moment, are you just going to leave how their college tuition will be paid for out of your agreement?
Do you really want to have to revisit these issues once your divorce is final? Or would you prefer to turn to a page in your agreement, look at what it says and follow the new guidelines that are already laid out for you?
Having a thorough agreement benefits both of you by ensuring that not only are known issues covered, but as many potential future issues as possible are covered as well.
Saving you time, money and the stress of having to return to mediation – or worse yet, court – to try to resolve these things - 5, 10 or 15 years down the road.
For New Jersey couples with children, in order to have a high quality divorce mediation, you need to ensure your agreement is child-focused.
A child-focused agreement is one that puts the needs of your children above your own when it comes to matters of timesharing and financial support.
Certainly most mediators can help you devise a basic parenting plan and calculate a minimum amount of child support. But a highly skilled mediator can make the difference between having an agreement and a child-focused agreement.
For example, a basic timesharing plan usually has the kids spending school nights and every other weekend with mom and the other weekend with dad.
This type of plan has been in existence since the dawn of time and is the “go to” default for most mediators. If they’re trying to be creative, maybe some will throw in a night during the week to make 10 out of 14 days with mom and four out of 14 with dad.
Now if you’re mom in this example and your goal is to spend as much time with the kids as you can, this is a great plan for you.
But is it really OK that your children are only going to see their father 14% to 28% of the time?
Even you must know that’s probably not in your children’s best interests.
A highly skilled mediator will offer creative solutions for parenting arrangements that have each of you seeing the kids as much as possible. While minimizing the damage that constant switching from house-to-house can do to your kids, especially if they’re younger children.
Then there’s the issue of financial support and the New Jersey child support guidelines.
There are some real bombshells when it comes to child support in New Jersey.
For example, did you know the child support guidelines represent the State of New Jersey’s best guess at the minimum amount of money an average family spends on their children?
And that the child support guidelines are only a recommendation and can be increased if your children’s needs aren’t being met?
Most mediators will run the guidelines, tell you the minimum amount it recommends and that’s that.
Their assumption is that the minimum recommendation is “fine” for your children, you are an “average” family and the State of New Jersey knows what’s better for your children than you do.
But a highly skilled mediator will work with you to come to an amount that takes into account your children’s unique needs and lifestyle.
And prevents your children from becoming the economic victims of divorce.
They will also help you understand in great detail what’s included and what’s not included in child support – because there’s a lot left out of the guidelines.
The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines only takes into account basic items such as food, shelter and personal care but does not take into account items such as:
Children are often the innocent victims of divorce. They didn’t ask for their world to be turned upside down or their financial security to be put in jeopardy. So bouncing them back and forth between houses and following the state mandated minimums for child support is no way to create a child-focused agreement.
Working with a highly skilled mediator to craft a child-focused agreement will go a long way towards making sure your kids grow up happy, supported and well-adjusted.
As you’re learning, in a New Jersey divorce there are very few specifics around many of the topics that you and your spouse will need to resolve.
This is especially true in the areas of determining spousal support in NJ and equitable distribution (the division of your marital assets and liabilities.)
So how can you reconcile the lack of specific, formulaic guidance the State of New Jersey provides with the ability to come to an agreement you both agree is fair and equitable when it’s unclear what that even means in the first place?
Take for example the much maligned and highly controversial topic of spousal support. In New Jersey, spousal support is based on a series of 13 “statutory factors” with the 13th being “any other factors the courts [parties] may deem relevant.”
Unlike child support, there is no guideline or model to calculate spousal support.
So determining an amount can prove quite difficult for most couples and quite frankly, most mediators.
Not only do you need to agree on an amount, but you also have to agree on the duration as well.
As you can imagine, the spouse who is paying spousal support wants the amount and duration to be as low and short as possible and the spouse who is receiving spousal support wants it to be as high and for as long as possible.
Most basic mediators will ask both of you what amount and duration you want to agree on. But our guess is that if you knew the answer to that question, you wouldn’t need the help of a divorce mediator in the first place.
On the other hand, a highly skilled mediator will work with you and your spouse to balance both of your needs post-divorce as well as consider your incomes, ages, earning potential, education levels, and tax brackets among many other things. To help you come to a fair and equitable amount and duration of spousal support based on your unique situation.
They will also suggest creative alternatives to the traditional “check in the mail” approach that most basic mediators take.
Lump sum buyouts or exchanging equitable distribution for spousal support to name a few will all be in the tool belt of a highly skilled mediator…
Especially if that New Jersey mediator has a financial background, which is extremely beneficial when it comes to settling matters of money and property in divorce.
Then there’s equitable distribution where you and your spouse will need to divide your marital assets and liabilities in NJ in a “fair but not necessarily equal” manner.
What does that mean?
How do you do that if each of you have a different definition of what’s fair?
Is fair 50-50?
Some other permutation?
What if you want to stay in the house and you know it’s the biggest asset you have? How is that going to be interpreted as fair by your soon-to-be-ex-spouse?
Even if “on paper” some assets appear to be equal in value, they’re typically not.
The tax implications of each asset, the liquidity of each asset, the cost-basis and tax gain or loss are many of the factors that come into play in determining whether two assets are worth the same thing.
You may have a case of apples and oranges even though on paper they both may look like apples!
How about dividing 401(k) plans and / or valuing complex financial instruments like pensions?
Oh, and don’t forget the necessary paperwork that must be prepared and language that must be drafted into your divorce agreement in order to avoid any penalties or nasty tax surprises down the road.
All of these things and more will be covered by a highly skilled mediator.
One slip up by your mediator and you could find yourself the recipient of a letter from Uncle Sam asking for his share of those 401(k) proceeds you got as part of your divorce settlement from your now ex-spouse.
The bottom line is that when it comes to things like spousal support and equitable distribution, there’s a lot of room for error, interpretation and chances for one party to get the short end of the stick.
Having a settlement that’s fair and equitable allows both of you to move forward without regret.
As you’ve been learning, there’s a lot of work that goes into a divorce.
It’s a complex process with lots of moving parts, and literally hundreds of decisions that need to be made in order to have a thorough agreement and high quality mediation.
And while a high quality mediation is less expensive than hiring two family law attorneys, it is by no means a cheap divorce like you see on those billboards on New Jersey Turnpike that scream:
$399 for a complete divorce solution! Call our divorce center today!
Yikes! No thank you…
There are two things you need to know about what makes one divorce mediation more cost-effective than another. And surprisingly, neither has anything to do with the hourly rate of the mediator.
First is the thoroughness of the New Jersey divorce mediation services and process.
Mediation services can vary greatly in terms of their thoroughness and what services are included by the mediator in their mediation process.
For example, after you’ve completed your discussions and come to your agreements, some basic mediators will prepare a “term-sheet” which is a bulleted list of the things you agreed upon in session. The term sheet looks a lot like your class notes from high school or college.
Unfortunately, the term sheet will need to be reviewed and rewritten by a drafting attorney (at an added cost of a few thousand dollars) who will need to add in necessary language and clarifying details to ensure your agreement's intent is clear and easy to follow.
But if you’re like many New Jersey couples, you’re probably seeking the services of a mediator because you want to avoid the use of attorneys in your divorce negotiations and save the added expense.
So unlike a basic mediator, a highly skilled mediator will draft a comprehensive document called a Memorandum of Understanding that will outline in great detail exactly what you and your spouse agreed to as part of their normal process.
No need to have to go to a drafting attorney and spend an additional $2,500 - $3,500 just to have your mediation agreement clarified and memorialized.
Second is the thoroughness of the divorce mediation agreement.
As you’ve learned, most mediators can cover the basics and help you and your spouse come to some high-level agreements.
But often times, the agreements are incomplete or unclear.
Either a topic wasn’t properly or thoroughly discussed in session or agreements were, in fact, reached, but were not written up clearly in the paperwork so they do not make a whole lot of sense when read at a later date.
If this happens and you run into an issue in the future that either wasn’t covered or needs clarification, what do you do?
You either end up arguing with each other or worse yet…
You go to court.
But if you work with a highly skilled mediator, you can avoid all of that.
Highly skilled mediators draft extremely thorough agreements and cover a myriad of potential issues that may not even be on your radar at the time of your mediation.
They know that while it may seem unlikely to you or your spouse at the time of your divorce that one or more of these scenarios will ever happen, highly skilled mediators know it’s better to discuss them now and agree on solutions rather than leave them to chance for the two of you to figure out on your own or in court, later.
So if you do encounter a change in your future circumstances, you’ll be able to simply open up your agreement, turn to the appropriate section, and review the decisions and agreements made at the time of your divorce.
No fighting, no hiring lawyers, no going back to court.
Saving you both time, money and stress.
Their comprehensive process and services will save you money.
And the thoroughly written agreements they draft will stand the test of time and save you money and stress in the future.
You’ve now learned how critical it is to get a high quality divorce mediation. And that a high quality divorce mediation is dependent on choosing a highly skilled divorce mediator.
But now you’re probably wondering how to go about finding one. And what questions you should ask a potential mediator in order to determine if they are, in fact, highly skilled.
The truth is finding highly skilled NJ mediators can be quite a challenge.
First, due to confidentiality, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get references. What if you got a call out of the blue one day from someone who wanted to ask you questions about your divorce mediator?
You’d probably be pretty upset, already having put your painful past behind you.
And since there aren’t many people who are willing to go on Yelp or Angie’s List and write a review about their mediator and discuss the details of their divorce, that’s not going to be a viable option for determining if the mediator you’re considering working with is highly skilled.
Choosing a mediator isn’t like choosing a restaurant!
Finally, most times you won’t know if you worked with a highly skilled mediator until your mediation is over, or it’s years in the future and you just found out there is something missing in your agreement.
So what can you do?
During your initial meeting you’ll want to learn more about the mediator’s background, training and experience, specifically in divorce mediation.
Ask them how long they’ve been practicing and whether or not they mediate full-time. And what they do to stay on top of their ever-changing profession.
Find out if the mediator has a financial background because three of the four main areas of a New Jersey divorce are financial in nature.
What about their success rate? Meaning – how many of their clients were able to come to agreement in mediation and not wind up resorting to litigation? A highly skilled mediator should be able to successfully settle at least 90%-95% of their cases.
Also as you’ve already learned, not all services provided by mediators are the same. So ask about the scope of services they offer and the associated fees.
Ask if there are any hidden or extra fees you’ll need to pay in order to complete your divorce. Just because one mediator’s fees may appear to be higher than another, it’s not always the case. And it doesn’t mean you should necessarily pick the mediator who’s cheaper.
Like the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” – especially when it comes to a basic mediator versus a highly skilled one.
So there you have it. You now know:
Hopefully you’re not overwhelmed, but instead feel educated, empowered and armed with the information you need to confidently take the next step.
So what is the next step?
If you and your spouse both already know that you want to mediate, your next step is to start researching providers so you can identify highly skilled mediators in NJ to help you through the mediation process.
Whether you work inside the home or outside of it, have minor children, grown children or are child-free, have been married a short time or have been together for many years, mediation is the smartest way to divorce in New Jersey.
To get started, take the next step and book an initial meeting for you and your spouse.
Or, if you're early in the process, learn how you benefit using mediation for divorce in NJ.