One of the most contentious, and therefore costly, aspects of a divorce can be the resolution of custody and parenting time issues. In an effort to spare parents from exposure to unnecessary angst and expense, New Jersey Courts have implemented a mandatory two-step process focused on co-parenting education and mediation.
The first step is the mandatory Parents Education Program that is designed to educate co-parents on the negative impact protracted custody disputes can have on their children. This brief program also explains the next step of the process: mandatory Custody and Parenting Time Mediation.
There is no cost to the parties to attend the Custody and Parenting Time mediation, which is handled by a trained professional and happens early in matrimonial proceedings. The entire process of the parenting time mediation, even though it is mandatory, is confidential. Anything that happens in the parenting time mediation process--even the issuance of a proposed schedule--may not be disclosed to the Court without the consent of both parties.
Perhaps the most important feature of this mediation program is that, by design, attorneys DO NOT participate--it is strictly a meeting between the parties and the mediator. However, just because attorneys cannot participate in the actual mediation session, it does not negate the importance of preparing with your divorce attorney for the mediation.
The goal of Custody and Parenting Time Mediation is to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement regarding these issues. The mediator does not render any decisions. Instead, the mediator assists the parties in trying to negotiate mutually agreeable terms based upon their unique family situation. The mediator may offer suggestions or recommendations in an attempt to synthesize the parties’ respective views on a fair and reasonable parenting time schedule.
Each case is different and the mediators are there to offer their wealth of knowledge as to that which might be a reasonable allocation of parenting time. If the mediation is successful, the mediator will memorialize the terms of the agreement in a proposed Memorandum of Understanding. The parties are then provided with an opportunity to review and consider the proposed Memorandum of Understanding with their respective counsel. If the proposal does not meet with objection from either of the parties, it is then forwarded to the Court for entry by a judge as a binding order.
However, not all court-ordered Custody and Parenting Time mediation sessions are successful. In some instances, the parties may use the proposed draft Memorandum of Understanding as a starting point for additional negotiations through counsel. In others, the parties are unable to find common ground and a mental health professional is ultimately required to perform a Best Interests Evaluation.
Still, if handled properly, Custody and Parenting Time Mediation presents an opportunity to avoid the potentially cost-intensive process of a full-blown custody dispute. Prior to your parenting time mediation session, the attorneys at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP are prepared to guide you through this process and, perhaps, save you money while also resolving custody and parenting time issues on your terms.