Although the average rates across the country have been holding steady in recent years, divorce is still a commonly used option for married couples who cannot or do not want to remain together any longer. And because a divorce creates two separate lives out of a formerly single married unit, often the proceedings can be drawn-out, painful, and even vindictive, depending on the circumstances. Family attorneys in New Jersey report that many divorce cases end in the courtroom, with ex-partners fighting bitterly over custody of children, property, wealth, and other assets that need to be divided.
These court battles cost divorcing spouses a lot of time and money. But now, legislators in New Jersey are working to provide a less court-oriented option for couples who want a divorce, but do not necessarily want to spend the next several months duking it out in court. In a new bill, A-1477, the state’s law would allow couples to have their marriage dissolved without intervention from a court judge, using a process similar to mediation. In this process, the bill makes it mandatory that both spouses provide “timely, full, and candid disclosure” of any information relevant to the breakup and dissolution, including financial records and personal property and asset records. This disclosure must be done without the intervention of the court’s discovery process.
The bill, known as the Family Collaborative Law Act, has been modeled after a proposal from the New Jersey Law Revision Commission and the national Uniform Law Commission. It details the collaborative process that divorcing couples will undergo with their New Jersey family lawyers. Any communication during this process is to remain confidential under laws similar to those that govern communication between a person and his therapist, doctor, or psychiatrist.
According to the bill’s stipulations, the collaborative process will be ended if one party gives notice of termination for any reason, whether by filing a document that will initiate court proceedings without letting the other partner know ahead of time, obtaining a temporary or final restraining order in accordance with the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, filing a motion for emergent relief, failing to provide the necessary information for dispute and conflict resolution, or if a collaborative lawyer withdraws during the process. If the collaborative process is not successful in resolving the conflicts between the divorcing couple, the collaborative lawyers would have to withdraw from the divorce case, and both parties would need to retain new counsel, completely unrelated to the prior lawyers’ firms.
So far, the bill has passed by unanimous vote in the New Jersey Assembly. If the legislation continues to be successful, New Jersey will join eight other states, and the District of Columbia, with similar collaborative processes in place for divorcing couples—Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Washington. S-1224 is the Senate’s version of the collaborative process bill, and has been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Budge and Appropriations Committee. S-1224 is currently awaiting a floor vote.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family lawyers are always searching for ways to keep your cases as easy and painless as possible. If you would like to discuss the options available for an amicable or collaborative divorce, contact an HCK attorney for a consultation today.