The New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act creates a new way to settle differences in divorce and dissolution cases. This method of cooperative problem solving has its advantages, but when it fails it can potentially add time and expense to the process of terminating marriages and civil unions. If you are facing a divorce or the dissolution of a civil union, you should consult with a New Jersey family law attorney to determine which path might lead to the best outcome for your case.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has long tried to encourage alternatives to courtroom divorce battles. The Supreme Court requires attorneys to inform their clients about alternative dispute resolution options. Now there is an additional alternative available in New Jersey, which promises a friendlier approach to resolving differences.
Family Collaborative Law encourages negotiation and problem solving between the parties in a divorce or civil union dissolution. The New Jersey version of this concept was codified in September 2014, and it is based on the 2009 Uniform Collaborative Law Act that was created by the Uniform Law Commission. Several other states have also enacted similar laws.
There are three key sections of the law that establish its main guidelines. Subsection 5(a) requires parties to state their intent, articulate the contested issues, define the roles of lawyers in the process, clarify the lawyers’ ethical rules, and maintain confidentiality in the negotiation process.
Subsection 7(b) establishes the terms that can abruptly terminate the collaborative process and potentially send the case to trial. Under this subsection, either party can unilaterally terminate the process for any reason, or for no reason at all. The collaborative process also terminates if either party initiates divorce proceedings without telling the other party, or obtains a restraining order against the other party. Likewise, the process ends if either party obtains emergency relief from a tribunal. If either side terminates its lawyer or loses its lawyer due to an ‘ethical withdrawal,’ the collaborative process terminates. Finally, if either side withholds pertinent information from the other, it spoils the collaborative effort and stops the collaborative law process.
That last part relates to Subsection 9, which covers the disclosure of information. Normally, a divorce by trial includes a process called “discovery.” In this phase of a traditional trial, both sides are required to provide information to each other so that the process is open and honest. Subsection 9 similarly requires both parties to act in good faith and to willingly provide a candid disclosure of all information that relates to the dispute. Furthermore, if any of that information changes, each side is required to promptly inform the other side.
The termination processes found in Subsection 7(b) can cause problems because of the abrupt way in which the collaborative process can end, sending the case to a divorce by trial. The lawyers in a subsequent divorce trial cannot be from the same law firms used in the collaborative process. This means that the parties must change lawyers, leading to potential financial and practical difficulties. The possibility of heightened expense and the problem of “starting over” with a new lawyer can create pressure to resolve a case. One party might even use this pressure to exert a tactical advantage over the other party: “If you don’t give me X, Y, and Z, I may terminate the collaborative process, and I know you don’t want that hassle.”
When things go well, it is possible that a collaborative process can provide a quicker, friendlier, and potentially less expensive means of settling differences. But one should also consider the possibility that it might just add more time, effort, and money to an already burdensome process. If you strongly sense that you will just end up going to trial anyway, this process is probably not for you.
Each divorce case contains a number of unique factors. The complexity of the financial matters, the involvement of children, and the general ability of both sides to “talk it out” should be considered when deciding which route is best for your case. When choosing a method for resolving your divorce or dissolution case, you should talk to an experienced New Jersey family law attorney. The attorneys at Goldstein Law Group have the knowledge and compassion needed to help you understand your case. Call 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.
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