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Using Alternative Dispute Resolution to Resolve Your Family Law Case Out of Court
More and more family law litigants are turning to alternative dispute resolution processes to resolve their disputes. Among these processes are the collaborative process where both parties hire attorneys and all decisions are made together without involvement of a Judge; mediation, in which the parties, with or without attorneys, attend sessions with a qualified family law mediator to try to reach agreement on their issues; and arbitration, in which the parties agree to select a qualified arbitrator who will conduct a full hearing in which testimony is offered and other evidence is presented after which a binding decision will be issued regarding the issues presented to the arbitrator. All of these alternative processes are usually cheaper than the litigation alternative in our courts and often provide a more expeditious method of resolving disputes.
Recent decisions by the New Jersey courts make it clear that when parties attend mediation and come to an agreement, that agreement must be put into a written document and signed by the parties (and their attorneys, if attorneys are involved) in order to be binding on the parties. Many mediators will draft a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) but will not have the parties sign it at the conclusion of the final mediation session. This gives the parties who have attorneys time to review the MOU with their attorneys when the attorneys do not attend the mediation. However, the cases make it clear that until there is a signed agreement, oral agreements made at a mediation are not binding and the courts cannot consider them as communications made in mediation are considered confidential. So the old saying, “get it in writing”, holds true in these cases.
My office represents family law litigants and can guide you through the best alternatives for you. Whenever appropriate, we encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution processes to resolve your case.