Spouses who are planning to get a divorce in New Jersey in 2023 are in for a very unpleasant surprise. There is a major court backlog that is causing significant delays in divorce hearings. We are not talking about just a few days or weeks of delays, the delays are running longer than a year in most NJ counties.
For example, if you are seeking a divorce in Gloucester County, you will have to wait until the second quarter of 2024 before your trial can start. The vast majority of other counties have similar timeframes.
This is very distressing news for couples who want to get through their divorce and move forward with their lives, but there is hope. For spouses who are willing to work together on their divorce settlement, mediation is a great option. With divorce mediation, couples can bypass the court backlogs and complete their marriage dissolution in a matter of weeks, rather than waiting for a year or longer.
What is Causing the New Jersey Court Backlog?
March 16 of 2023 will mark the three-year anniversary of the beginning of the historic Covid-19-related shutdowns. What started as “two weeks to flatten the curve” turned into months of closures that impacted every area of our society. During that time, the courts were also shut down, and only emergency hearings were being held through video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.
According to Law.com, the backlog in marriage dissolution cases in New Jersey reached 3,300 in 2020 at the height of the shutdowns. That was considered unprecedented at the time. But since then things have only become worse with the seriousness of this back log just reported today on NBC.
The reason for this is a record number of judicial vacancies brought on by retirements and the failure of the state to fill these vacancies in a timely manner. And with cases already being pushed out until close to the middle of 2024, the situation is not likely to improve anytime soon. It is very frustrating for couples and families who want to get their divorces completed, and this is why alternatives like divorce mediation are needed now more than ever.
How Does Divorce Mediation Work?
Divorce mediation is an increasingly preferred option in which spouses work cooperatively with the help of a neutral, third-party mediator to reach a settlement on the terms and conditions of their divorce. The mediator guides the discussion around the issues that need to be resolved, such as child custody and visitation schedules, alimony/spousal support, and the division of marital assets.
Mediation differs from traditional divorce litigation in several significant ways. For one, mediation is a collaborative rather than a combative process, meaning that the spouses adopt a non-adversarial approach. Instead of hiring lawyers to battle it out in court, the spouses work together with the mediator to try to settle their differences amicably.
Through mediation, couples can often finalize their divorce without being tied to the court schedule at all. If they are able to work everything out through the mediation sessions, then all they will have to do is file the final settlement agreement with the court to make everything official.
It is important to note that divorce mediation is a 100% voluntary process. This means that both spouses must agree to do it, and they must both agree on any settlement that is reached during the sessions.
Although the mediator guides the discussion, they have no authority to impose a settlement that the spouses are not on board with. In addition, spouses can still retain legal counsel for advice throughout the process and to review the settlement agreement.
The Advantages of Divorce Mediation in New Jersey
As we discussed earlier, the major benefit for spouses who are currently considering divorce mediation is the timeline. A couple can finish their divorce usually within two or three months depending on how many mediation sessions will be required. Considering that the New Jersey courts are likely to be backlogged for the foreseeable future and couples will have to wait until 2024 for their first court hearing, the time savings alone makes mediation a much better option for most divorcing spouses.
In addition to the timing of the process, there are several other reasons that couples often opt for divorce mediation:
If You Thought Mediation Was Not for You, It May be Time to Reconsider
Some closing thoughts about the current situation with the New Jersey courts. There may be people reading this who have heard about divorce mediation before, but they never thought it could work for them.
Maybe you think that you and your spouse are just too far apart on the issues to try to mediate. Maybe you and your spouse are prone to arguing and you feel uncomfortable being in the same room with them. Or maybe you think your situation is too complex to mediate because you have unique assets, a blended family, a family business, etc.
The truth is that none of these issues that we have just mentioned need to be a hindrance to mediating your divorce. We have helped many couples successfully mediate even when they thought they could never work out their differences together. And if you are not comfortable in a face-to-face session, virtual mediation could still work for you.
When it comes to complex issues, that is kind of our specialty at AMS. We have a whole team of in-house experts that we can call on to work with our clients on financial matters, children with special needs, and just about anything else that divorcing couples need extra help with.
Clearly, there are times when mediation will not work. If you are in a violent or abusive relationship, for example, then you need to take steps to protect yourself first and foremost. Also, if your spouse is dishonest or is just not a reasonable person, then mediation is probably not for you.
Aside from these extreme cases, divorcing spouses should at least consider mediation given the current situation with the New Jersey courts. With this option, you have an expedited process that allows you to finish your divorce within a reasonable timeframe, rather than having to wait a year or two just to get started.
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