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Mediation is a dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party (the mediator) assists the parties in coming to a mutual agreement about a dispute. The major distinction of mediation from appearing in court is that a mediator does not make a decision about the outcome of the case. The New Jersey legal system supports mediation as a way to resolve disputes. The civil mediation program is governed in particular by N.J. Ct. R. 1:40-4 and 1:40-6. Thus, in all New Jersey counties, the court can require the parties to participate in at least two hours of mediation, at no charge, in any type of Civil, General Equity or Probate case. Courts may order or suggest meditation in family court matters, including initial child custody determinations, as well as custody modifications.

General Overview of Mediation and Its Advantages 

Here is a general overview of how mediation might work in New Jersey for modifying a child custody case:

  • Decision to Mediate: Either party can suggest mediation, or as discussed above, a  judge might require that the parties attempt to resolve their issues through mediation.
  • Selection of a Mediator: The parties might choose a mediator together, or the court might assign one. In New Jersey, there are court-approved mediators who specialize in child custody and parenting time disputes. The mediator typically initially meets with both parties to explain the process, set ground rules, and gather basic information.
  • Mediation Sessions: During these sessions, the mediator will facilitate a discussion between the parties, helping them to understand each other’s concerns and perspectives. The goal is to guide the parties toward a mutual agreement.
  • Reaching an Agreement: If the parties come to an agreement on modifying the custody arrangement, the mediator may draft a memorandum of understanding or a more detailed parenting plan, reflecting the terms of their agreement.
  • Court Approval: Any mediated agreement related to child custody needs to be submitted to the court for approval. The court will review the agreement to ensure it is in the best interests of the child. Once approved, the agreement can become an official court order.
  • No Agreement: If the parties cannot reach an agreement, they can proceed to a court hearing where a judge will decide the matter based on the evidence and arguments presented.
  • Confidentiality: Generally, mediation sessions are confidential. This means, subject to certain specific exceptions, what is discussed during mediation typically cannot be used as evidence in court. This allows the parties to speak openly and honestly during the mediation process.

Mediation can be a valuable tool in resolving child custody disputes in New Jersey. Here are some reasons why mediation can be beneficial when modifying child custody determinations: 

  • Voluntary and Collaborative: Mediation is a voluntary process where both parties work collaboratively to arrive at an agreement that meets the best interests of the child(ren). This usually lends itself to a more cooperative environment, which can result in a more amicable and lasting agreement.
  • Neutral Mediator: Mediation involves a neutral third party who facilitates communication between the parents. This mediator does not take sides, but will help to guide the conversation and to ensure that all points of view are heard.
  • Cost-Effective: Mediation can be less expensive than litigation. Court cases can take a significant amount of time and resources, while mediation might result in an agreement in fewer sessions.
  • Confidential: Unlike court proceedings, which are public, mediation sessions are private and confidential. This can protect the child(ren) and the family from public exposure of personal issues.
  • Flexibility: Mediation provides a flexible environment where parents can discuss and modify various custody arrangements that might not be possible or as easily agreed upon in a courtroom setting.
  • Focus on Best Interests: The mediation process encourages parents to think about what is truly best for their child(ren) rather than focusing on “winning” the case.
  • Better Long-Term Relationships: Since mediation is collaborative, it can help maintain or even improve the co-parenting relationship. Parents learn communication skills that can help them to discuss things more productively in the future.  It can also reduce hostility and resentment, which can be beneficial for both the parents and the child(ren).
  • Customized Solutions: Every family is unique, and mediation allows for solutions tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the family.
  • Faster Resolutions: Court battles can be lengthy. Mediation, on the other hand, can result in quicker resolutions, allowing families to move forward at a more rapid pace and to adjust to their new arrangements.
  • Empowerment: Mediation empowers parents to make decisions about their child(ren)’s future, rather than having a decision imposed by a judge.

However, it is important to recognize that while mediation can be highly beneficial, it might not be suitable for all situations. For instance, in cases of domestic violence or where there is a significant power imbalance between the parents, mediation might not be the best option.

If you are considering mediation for modification of a child custody agreement in New Jersey, consulting with an experienced family law attorney can provide clarity on the process and ensure that your interests and those of your child(ren) are adequately protected. Bozanian McGregor, LLC has highly skilled attorneys who can help you with the specifics of your case, discuss the benefits and potential downsides of mediation, as well as other options that may be available to you.

About the Author
Elton’s passion has always been family, guardianship, and estate practice, and the complexities that accompany each unique, family-oriented matter.