When you buy a house in New Jersey, you negotiate directly with the seller (with the help of your agent) about price, what’s included, sale date, etc. After those details are agreed to, each party typically hires an attorney to make sure the sales agreement is properly drafted and executed.
Similarly in a mediated divorce, your attorney will not be negotiating for you. That is done directly with the mediator and your spouse, which is where you save a lot of time and money.
In a mediated divorce, your attorney will typically have the following roles:
- Reviewing the Memorandum of Understanding
- Preparing the Property Settlement Agreement and other legal documents
- Making your filings with the court
- Attending the hearing with you (if needed, depending on county and judge)
- Giving you legal advice
Much like hiring the mediator, you should find a lawyer that is both competent and one that you’re comfortable with. You do not need an attorney when you start mediation. We will discuss selecting an attorney as part of the mediation process. I recommend my clients have an attorney in place my half way through the mediation. A small investment in an attorney up front can save a lot of money if the filing is done incorrectly and issues arise later. At the same time, I have many clients who opt to not use lawyers to complete their divorce. You have the right to proceed either way.
I can provide you a list of mediation friendly attorneys to consult with. Both spouses cannot be represented by the same attorney and the mediator cannot act as an attorney for either party. All of these represent conflicts of interests and violate numerous ethical rules.
Here are some questions you can ask a review attorney:
- How do you feel about mediation?
- If the attorney is not favorable towards mediation, you probably should call another one.
- How many divorces have you handled in the last few years?
- Make sure that you hire a matrimonial attorney — it is a very specialized area of law.
- How much will your retainer be if we use a mediator?
- Should be $1500 to $2500 (for each spouse).
- What is your hourly billing rate?
- Can range between $200 to $450 per hour.
- How do you charge for telephone calls?
- Generally billed in 10- to 15-minute increments.
Note: If you or your children are being abused or if you suspect your spouse is hiding or disposing of assets, you should consult with a lawyer immediately, regardless if you plan on mediating the divorce.