While alimony reform was the most talked about bill signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on September 10, numerous others were also signed, including the New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act (A1477). The act, which is modeled on a proposal by the NJ Law Revision Commission and the national Uniform Law Commission, allows for family collaborative law NJ, a process similar to mediation to be used to dissolve a marriage without court intervention. New Jersey is the ninth state to allow the process after Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia.
As stated in the bill, the legislature found that since at least 2005, NJ attorneys have participated in a dispute resolution method known as family collaborative law. This is defined as a process in which an attorney is retained for the purpose of assisting their client with family disputes in a “voluntary, non‐adversarial manner, without court intervention.”
What sets collaborative law apart is that each party begins with the intention of resolving disputes without litigation. A family collaborative law participation agreement must be signed and in record that adheres to the requirements detailed in section 5 of P.L.2014, c.50 (C.2A:23D-5); some of which include: the parties’ intention to resolve a family law dispute through a family collaborative law NJ process, a description of the nature and scope of the family law dispute, identification of the family collaborative lawyers representing each party, the manner by which a family collaborative law NJ process begins and terminates, and the confidentiality of any communication of a party or a non-party participant.
When the parties meet they are accompanied by their respective attorneys and when necessary one or more non-attorney professionals such as certified financial planners, certified public accountants, licensed clinical social workers, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and psychiatrists.
If either party or attorney commences a court proceeding related to the issues being addressed through the collaborative process, other than to seek the incorporation of a settlement agreement into a final judgment, the family collaborative process will be terminated. The process will also end if either party is subject to or obtains a temporary or final restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, files a motion for emergent relief, fails to provide necessary information to resolve the dispute, or the collaborative lawyer withdraws from the proceedings.
If the collaborative process is unsuccessful for any reason, both lawyers must withdraw from the case and the parties must seek new counsel. The new attorneys are not allowed to be associated with or from either of the collaborative lawyers’ firms, and any communication or information from the collaborative process may not be used in court.
Collaborative law and mediation differ in that a mediator should not be consulted for legal advice by either party. For example, if one spouse offers a lump sum alimony payment of $200,000, the receiving spouse would not ask the mediator for advice regarding the case law and probability of success if litigated before a judge. However, by using the family collaborative law NJ method, the spouse would have their own attorney to consult before accepting these terms.
The family collaborative law NJ process can be more cost effective than traditional litigated divorce. By requiring both parties to provide “timely, full and candid disclosure” of relevant information, neither side must resort to discovery. In a divorce, discovery is the process of obtaining important information from sources such as employers or banks. This can include depositions in which sworn statements to be used in court are taken from spouses, witnesses, or other relevant parties. Eliminating these procedures and the time spent at court proceedings – which can last an average of 2 to 4 hours per daily court appearance – will decrease overall attorney fees.
Because each person’s situation varies greatly, there is no one method of dissolving a marriage that is superior to another. At Armour Law Firm we recognize the importance of serving these diverse needs and provide collaborative family law NJ, traditional litigated divorce, and mediation services.