NJ Divorce Mediation Guide: The Process
Divorce is difficult for any couple. If you are at the beginning of the process, you probably are overwhelmed at this point. Anxiety and fear of the unknown do not need to be a major part of the equation. Many people successfully make it through a divorce.
A divorce is essentially turning an intimate, emotion-based relationship into a business relationship. It only needs to be an on-going relationship if you have children or if alimony is involved. Divorce is akin to a dissolving a business partnership.
In general, the divorce process is as follows:
- Decide which process works best for the couple (litigation or mediation)
- Select your professionals (mediator, attorneys, experts, etc.)
- Negotiate your settlement either directly, with a mediator or through your attorneys
- Complete your written Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), sometimes called a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA)
- File a case in court to dissolve the marriage
- Implement the agreement
- Move on with your life
In mediation, you and your spouse come to my office and discuss the various aspects of dissolving your marriage. There are usually no attorneys present at these meetings — just the spouses. Through the discussions, you will come to agreement on the various aspects (discussed further below). In between sessions, you are encouraged to consult with your attorney and/or other subject matter experts (such as a therapist or accountant) to get guidance on your discussions and decisions. You may also have to compile documents and budgets or discuss items in between sessions.
The direct outcome of the mediation will be a document called a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU). This is a detailed summary of the points that you have agreed to. Then your attorneys will convert the final MOU into the formal “Property Settlement Agreement”, which is the document that is filed with the court to legally dissolve the marriage. It is also the document that will stipulate how things move forward after the divorce is granted by the court.
There are 4 major areas of discussion:
- Equitable Distribution of Assets and Liabilities — splitting what you own and owe such as:
- A home/mortgage(s)
- Bank and investment accounts
- Retirement accounts including defined benefit plans, SEPPs, IRAs and 401k’s
- Cars, boats and other vehicles
- Credit card balances, student loans
- Parenting (if applicable)
- Holidays and vacations
- Child Support (if applicable)
- Spousal support/Alimony (if applicable)
- Assistance in transitioning from married life to independent lives
Within each of these areas are a lot of details to be discussed and vary by couple. Each mediation session I conduct is generally 90 minutes in length and there is a gap of 1-3 weeks between each session for data gathering, contemplation, discussion and consultation with attorneys and other experts. Typically, the flow of discussion is as follows:
- Equitable Distribution of Assets and Liabilities (compile asset and liability lists prior to this session)
- Parenting arrangements (after this session, compile current and proposed budgets)
- Child Support
- Miscellaneous items
- Review the draft and finalize the MOU
The flow may vary depending on the specific circumstances or the information that is available. But this should give you a general road map as to how things will proceed.
Mediation is a forward-looking process. It looks to get both spouses on with their lives and arrangements made for the children. It does not look to place blame on why the marriage is ending. The discussions and negotiations are usually civil and focused on moving forward.
Contact Sanns Mediation Now
For questions or to get started, contact Marvin at Sanns Mediation.