Is Mediation Mandatory for My Spouse in New Jersey?

Mediation, Whether Voluntary or Court-Ordered, Addresses Specific Divorce-Related Issues to Promote Compromise

Is Mediation Mandatory for My Spouse in New Jersey?There is more than one way to get a divorce. Mediation, a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), is used to resolve a divorce without going to trial. It entails negotiation directed by a neutral third party known as the mediator, a trained, impartial professional who facilitates difficult conversations about parenting time, alimony, and the distribution of assets and debts. The mediator’s job is to keep the conversation focused on the aspects of divorce that need to be settled and offer solutions to a stalemate with suggestions of compromise. Some mediators are retired judges or lawyers, but that isn’t a prerequisite. Mediators receive training to identify possible sticking points a couple may have and offer possible solutions that both sides can agree with.

Divorce Mediation: Choice vs. Obligation

There are two kinds of mediation:  voluntary and court-ordered. In the case of voluntary mediation, the couples hire a mediator, splitting the cost between them. If you and your spouse choose to engage in voluntary mediation and back out, no legal statute obliges you to participate. If the court has ordered that you go to mediation before it settles any matters, then you must participate in the mediation process. Typically, the court will require two separate mediation processes:  one for economic issues and another for child custody and visitation issues. Establishing child custody and a parenting plan are the two areas most difficult for divorcing parents to agree on. In a mediation forum, communication and compromise are guided and encouraged. Regarding the economic side of mediation, New Jersey uses an Early Settlement Panel, where a group of family law attorneys are presented with each side’s economic information and expectations for a settlement. The lawyers from each side gather all financial information and submit it to a three-member panel, which will then suggest the most equitable decision for the divorcing couple.

Analyzing Hurdles to Participation in NJ Divorce Mediation

A spouse who doesn’t want a divorce may not be open to attending mediation. Maybe they are struggling with the moral idea of divorce or how it will have a negative effect on the children. Divorce to many seems like failure, but living in a dysfunctional relationship is difficult for everyone involved. Sometimes, one spouse doesn’t want to go to mediation because they feel it is an invasion of their privacy. They are going to discuss financial issues, visitation, and other topics they may have previously only discussed with their lawyer.

Other times, if the relationship has deteriorated to absolute acrimony, they may think mediation wastes time because no one will keep them from arguing with their spouse. They may conclude that any discussion to find a middle ground will be futile and a complete waste of their time. Also, they may want to make all of the decisions and use elements such as child custody and the distribution of assets as ways to exact revenge on their spouse for filing for divorce or being unfaithful.

Why Mediation Makes Sense in Certain Situations

The biggest benefit of mediation is 0ften monetary. Mediators do not require a retainer. A couple can split the cost of a private mediator, and mediation is less expensive than hiring a lawyer for each side. Time is another factor. Effective mediation can be done in a span of several hours rather than several days. Also, the busy court docket could delay your divorce proceedings while mediation is unaffected by the court’s calendar.

Couples may choose mediation because they have more control over the outcome. Mediation sessions are less contentious, and the spouses participate rather than leaving the discussion in their attorneys’ hands; they can create a plan they can agree on. Privacy is another plus. Everything discussed in mediation is confidential and not a part of the public record. This provides freedom to the couple to discuss more personal issues than if they were in court.

Consequences of Refusal to Attend Court-Mandated Mediation in NJ

Court-ordered mediation is not voluntary. Participants must attend the necessary sessions to reach an agreement, or if there is a stalemate, they should return to court to tell the judge they could not reach a compromise. Suppose a party misses a mediation session (or more) by mistake due to illness or other extenuating circumstances such as a car accident. In that case, they should show the court proof that the absence was unplanned and request a continuance of the mediation. When a party refuses to attend mediation sessions, they can be ordered to pay for all of the sessions, may be assessed court fines, and could go to jail. They can also be obligated to complete community service.

If Mediation Fails, Explore Additional Resolution Avenues

The Possible Outcomes of Declining Court-Ordered Mediation in New Jersey.Mediation doesn’t work for everyone, unfortunately. But there are other solutions, such as changing the mediator. A party may feel that the mediator has a bias that doesn’t allow fair decision-making. Collaborative divorce is another alternative resolution process where spouses and their lawyers work together in conjunction with other professionals, such as therapists and financial advisors, to reach the desired solutions necessary for a divorce settlement agreement.

If the spouses are at an impasse that cannot be resolved by any other means, they will need to litigate the divorce. A family court judge will decide for the parties if they are incapable of deciding for themselves. This is the most expensive and time-consuming route.

Strategies for Making Decisions and Overcoming Hesitation in Divorce Mediation

Frequently, one spouse drags their feet in the divorce process because they have doubts about the separation. Maybe their religion frowns on the practice, or they simply aren’t ready for the relationship to end. In this case, it is best to be patient and give them some time to come around, within reason. It will take less time for them to accept mediation than it will to fight tooth and nail for everything in litigation.

Ignorance incites fear. Perhaps one spouse is unfamiliar with the mediation process, thinking it is akin to counseling. Providing them with resources where they can read about how mediation works can address their confusion and concerns. Further, many people are influenced by the opinions of their friends and family. Seeking advice from those who successfully completed mediation is a good idea. Conversely, divorce horror stories from those who chose litigation without trying an alternative form of resolution could prove to be helpful as well.

Take Control of Your Divorce with Solid Legal Guidance from Montanari Law Group

It is never easy whether you choose mediation or another form of divorce. Being so emotionally invested in someone only to have to let them go is excruciating, especially when children are in the picture. You wonder if you are making the right decisions for yourself and your family. You need solid legal advice to guide you through this difficult time.

We pride ourselves on tailoring our strategy to your unique situation in Clifton, Pompton Lakes, Wayne, Caldwell, Hawthorne, Little Falls, Montclair, and towns across Northern New Jersey. We have the resources and experience you need to provide you with personalized, dedicated representation. Our seasoned attorneys will work for you in resolving issues such as alimony, child support, child custody, and the distribution of debts and assets.

Make an appointment for a consultation by calling (973) 233-4396 or by filling out our contact form online. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.


To speak with one of our highly knowledgeable attorneys, contact us today at (973)-233-4396 or toll-free at (888)-877-7985. You can also complete the form below to begin your conversation. We are a personalized, boutique-style law firm that offers free initial consultations and flexible appointment options.