There’s no doubt that ending a marriage is one of the most stressful and significant events you’ll ever experience in your life.
It isn’t only emotionally painful, but if not handled properly, the actual divorce process can be destructive and financially ruinous to not only you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, but also to your kids.
New Jersey is where we’re from and since 2008, we’ve been helping couples avoid the devastation of attorney-driven divorce proceedings through the use of divorce mediation, a more peaceful option.
If you’re starting to plan for divorce, you’re wise to want to learn about divorce mediation New Jersey. And we’ve got you covered!
On this page, you'll find answers to common questions about mediation for divorce in NJ including: what it is, how it works, what it costs, how long it takes, what issues need to be resolved, whether you also need a lawyer if you're mediating, if you and your spouse need to be in agreement on the issues before you can start divorce mediation, if mediation will work in a complex case, how it compares to using lawyers, how to know if mediation is a viable option for you and if it is, how to prepare.
And if you already know that you want to mediate your divorce, and you and/or your spouse live anywhere in The Garden State, book an online initial meeting to learn more about our expert online divorce mediation services.Book an Initial Meeting
Thank you so much for all of the help and support you provided throughout the mediation process.
"S" and I weren't sure what to expect but after meeting and working with you, we knew we made the right choice.former client, Bedminster, NJ
Joe, I am grateful to you as an example of integrity and compassion, and would recommend you without reservation as a guide and support.
Your divorce coaching services bring even more value to your firm's fine work.former client, Short Hills, NJ
Thank you for helping us reach a fair and balanced agreement.
I guess that's why you're called Equitable Mediation!former client, Bridgewater, NJ
Thank you, Joe. You have helped make a hard situation a lot less painful. It is greatly appreciated.former client, Morristown, NJ
Divorce mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process. Unlike the divorce litigation process, the parties instead work with an unbiased, neutral mediator who helps them resolve the required issues.
Many people choose divorce mediation in NJ because it’s faster, more peaceful, and less costly than the traditional divorce litigation process.
In New Jersey, divorce mediation is either court-ordered or private.
Court-ordered mediation in NJ is ordered by a judge or family law court in a litigated divorce proceeding and is mandatory.
So if you choose the traditional route using attorneys, you'll likely be obligated to do this as one of the first steps in the divorce settlement attempt process as NJ requires parties in litigation to engage in child custody and parenting time mediation and economic mediation through a state-run program.
We believe there are a number of shortcomings with court-ordered mediation:
The couple chooses to mediate - instead of litigation. They seek out this option and they each agree up-front to participate.
So if you and your spouse both agree to use mediation, you’ll hire a private NJ divorce mediator like Joe, and this would typically be done before you file for divorce.
Joe will help you identify, discuss, negotiate and resolve all of the required issues, confidentially and without the involvement of divorce lawyers (if you so choose).
For divorcing spouses with no children or grown children, there are two main topics parties need to resolve. For those with minor children, there are four:
In New Jersey, issues of parenting responsibilities and timesharing are agreed upon and drafted into the parenting plan (child custody).
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 important matters pertaining to the kids such as education, religion and medical issues.
Take for example the children’s extracurricular activities.
Whether it’s dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, soccer, baseball, or something else, most children in New Jersey participate in extracurricular activities. And many of these activities demand an enormous investment of time (and money), not only during the week, but also on weekends.
So let’s say you and your soon-to-be-ex are considering a schedule which has the children staying with one of you during the school week, and then alternating weekends. If the children are excessively busy with their activities on Saturdays and Sundays, it can not only have a detrimental effect on the relationship the kids have with the “weekend parent,” but also the satisfaction that parent has with the plan itself.
What about business travel, long work hours and/or unpredictable commutes?
It’s quite common for working parent(s) to be employed in NYC or another location in Jersey that isn’t close to home.
As former residents of Morris county, Middlesex county and Somerset county, we know all about life along NJ Transit’s NE Corridor, and the long hours spent riding (and waiting for) trains from Princeton and New Brunswick into the city. And how some days it could take up to 40 minutes to drive 10 miles!
So if one of you travels frequently for business, works long hours, and/or has an unpredictable commute due to traffic or public transportation, being able to commit to and fulfill your shared parenting plan responsibilities can be impossible for you (even though you want to), and unfair to the other parent.
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 it's 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 a version of something called the “income-shares” model to determine this type of support. In this model, a number of factors are taken into account, including the incomes of the parties (you and your spouse) and the timesharing each of you has with your minor children. The model will then determine a basic support amount, and allocate a portion of that amount each of you will be responsible for.
So in effect, you both pay it.
For example, a divorcing couple's timesharing plan is one of the two main inputs into the calculation of NJ child support. But did you know New Jersey has 3 different ways to calculate support depending on the amount of time your children spend with each of you as outlined in your plan?
And, based on the age(s) of your children, NJ also has two different ways to calculate support, depending on how old they are. In addition, the NJ child support guideline only works if neither of you gets a bonus, or any other type of variable compensation, and your combined net incomes aren’t above a certain amount.
Then there’s the issue of extraordinary expenses.
The basic support amount in NJ excludes a number of other “extraordinary expenses” such as college, and extracurricular activities, which must be negotiated separately. So not only do you have to know what’s in and what’s out of the New Jersey guideline, but you also have to determine how much each of you are going to contribute to those uncovered, extraordinary expenses.
And who gets to decide what extraordinary expenses the kids incur?
If both of you have to share in their cost, but don’t agree that your child should be in gymnastics 8 days a week, how do you handle that?
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.
In New Jersey, the payment of money from one ex-spouse to another is called spousal support.
And it is to be used by the recipient spouse to assist with their expenses.
New Jersey provides a series of "factors," but nothing to help you determine an explicit amount of support that applies to your specific circumstances. Meaning it is up to you and your spouse to come to agreement on what you both think is fair.
What if a significant portion of your income is variable?
It's common for companies to offer their employees incentives where a significant portion of their income comes from a bonus or other at-risk compensation. Or for those employed in sales or financial services to receive commissions that vary from month-to-month or year-to-year.
On one hand, while you were married, it might not have mattered a whole lot since that money was going into your house checking account and used to pay your bills.
On the other hand, once you're divorced, that income will need to be shared across two households. But since those forms of income aren't necessarily earned on a regular basis, or the amount is variable every time it is earned, how will you determine a fair support amount?
What if one of you is the sole breadwinner and the other stays home with children?
Each of you play a valuable role in the financial security of your family.
The spouse working outside the home provides the income needed for the family to live. And the “at home” spouse plays a valuable role as caretaker of the children and marital home, enabling the other spouse to work the hours they need to work, or take the trips they need to take to earn that income.
But since two households are more expensive to run than one, and New Jersey has a high cost of living, to make ends meet post-divorce, what if it’s necessary for the “at home” spouse to return to the workforce at some point in the future, but they don’t know when that will happen or what they’ll be able to earn?
Since one of the factors for determining support in NJ is need, and upon a return to the workforce (in theory) the recipient’s need is reduced, what happens to the amount of alimony received?
Does it stay the same or does it change?
And if it changes, when does it change, and by how much?
Just because there isn’t a guideline or other repeatable way to resolve this issue doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
This is the process by which divorcing couples divide their marital property and debts. And is typically the last issue a mediating couple will need to discuss and resolve in their 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 assets and liabilities. NJ is not a community property state where assets and liabilities would be split 50-50.
And again, there is very little in the way of determining what’s fair.
Determining what marital property is, what’s the difference between marital and pre-marital property, and what factors are taken into account when discussing this topic all factor into the negotiations.
To keep things simple, let’s take a look at one of the most common challenges New Jersey couples face, and that’s the cost of housing.
For many, the marital home is the single biggest asset they own.
Let’s say you want to stay in the house you lived in while married, and you intend to buy out your spouse’s share. That means you not only need to refinance the current mortgage on the home, but borrow an additional amount, to cover what you owe your soon-to-be-ex for their share of the equity.
But what if you can’t borrow as much as you need?
So instead, you offer your soon-to-be ex a greater share of the retirement accounts to offset what you owe them?
While on paper the amounts may look the same, cash from a buyout is just that – cash – which can be used right now, and is received by your spouse tax-free. But retirement accounts contain pre-tax funds meaning when you withdraw them, you need to pay Uncle Sam his share. Plus, you need to be a certain age to take funds from them without penalty.
Certainly, there are limited exceptions to this for divorcing couples, but as a general rule, you need to be at least 59 ½ to withdraw 401(k) funds.
Sometimes, the way you want to divide your assets in NJ might appear to be fair at first glance, but when you take into account taxes and other hidden factors, your agreement can look a lot different than what you might have intended.
Since no two mediators are alike, the process will vary from mediator-to-mediator. But here’s a high level overview of our process:
Lawyers are not required at any point in a divorce.
Some parties choose to speak with a divorce attorney during or after mediation to get legal advice. However, others explicitly choose to NOT involve lawyers in their divorce.
This is your divorce, so if you’d like to get an attorney’s viewpoint on a particular issue(s), you are encouraged to do so.
No! It is not necessary for the two of you to have everything already decided before you start mediation.
In fact, many couples specifically wait for their divorce mediator to help them talk about and resolve the issues.
This way, you can make sure all issues will be discussed thoroughly - in the proper order and given the time and attention they require.
While we can’t speak for all NJ mediators, for us the answer is a decisive yes!
There is no divorce case too complicated to be handled by our expert mediator.
Given our proficiency working with couples divorcing after 20 years of marriage or more, gray divorces, cases involving children with special needs, divorces with a business involved, cases involving variable, deferred and complicated compensation issues, and high net worth divorces, most cases we handle have a great deal of complexities.
There are significant differences between these divorce options ranging from the number of professionals involved, approach, speed, cost, fairness, control, tone, and more!
This article will help you understand in more detail, a comparison of mediation vs lawyers for divorce, and this article will help you understand the differences between mediation and collaborative law (also referred to as collaborative divorce), and the benefits we believe mediation provides.
Mediators come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are lawyers, so they may refer to themselves as a "divorce mediation lawyer." Some are mental health professionals. While others, like Equitable Mediation's founder, Joe Dillon, have a financial background.
The total cost of divorce mediation in NJ varies greatly and is dependent on a number of factors including, but not limited to:
You can work with an inexperienced mediator for a lower hourly rate or flat-fee, but then once mediation is completed, spend another few thousand dollars to have your agreement re-written by attorneys (and/or tens of thousands of dollars in the future to resolve missed issues.)
Or you can work with an experienced mediator whose fee might be higher, but who delivers a more thorough service, written agreement, and resolution on both present and known/potential future issues, which will save you money, time and stress in the long run.
To learn more, read: The Real Truth Behind Divorce Mediation Costs
No two divorces are exactly the same, so divorce mediation can vary in length based on what needs to be decided and the couples’ interpersonal dynamics and level of agreement.
That includes time you’ll need to complete the financial discovery phase of our process, have your negotiation sessions with Joe to resolve all the issues, for Joe to draft your Memorandum of Understanding, and for you to have time to review it and provide feedback.
Divorce mediation is a feasible option for your divorce in NJ if:
There are several steps you can take to prepare for divorce mediation.
Read our post for some divorce mediation tips and a NJ divorce mediation checklist.
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.
Or, if you're early in the process, learn how you benefit using mediation for divorce in NJ instead of litigation.
If you live anywhere in the state of New Jersey, you can mediate your no-fault divorce with us using our innovative and convenient online divorce mediation format.
We have mediated cases in all NJ counties. Here are just a few of the many places our clients are located: