In most New Jersey divorce cases, there are several last-chance efforts that couples can make to work out their differences and stay together or resolve their separation more peacefully. Often, mediation is the first step—a process in which each spouse can speak freely and honestly about his or her wants and needs and the grievances that have led to the desire for a divorce.
Mediation also helps couples work through their issues and provides a third-party (the mediator) who acts as a sounding board and neutral referee when needed. Sometimes, couples are even required to undergo mediation as part of a pre-existing agreement for handling disputes.
However, in some cases, mediation is not an option and the New Jersey Appellate Court recently issued a decision that specifically outlines when mediation is not appropriate or necessary as part of the divorce process. Any divorcing couples who have taken out final restraining orders (FROs) as part of a domestic violence claim cannot be required to go through mediation, even if a property settlement agreement (PSA) lists this as a requirement.
O.P. v. L.G-P
In a case before the appellate court, a Union County judge ordered a divorced woman, L.G-P, to attend mediation sessions with her ex-husband, O.P., to work out child support and other issues. L.G-P had previously entered a domestic violence FRO against her ex-husband. The two were married for three years and had one child. They divorced in 2009, and in 2010, L.G-P entered the FRO against O.P for allegations of domestic violence.
At the time of their divorce, and before the domestic violence charges, both parties had signed a PSA in which they agreed they would handle all disputes about child support and related complications through mediation with a mediator that both parties agreed upon. However, after the FRO was entered, the ex-spouses ended up in court in 2013 and 2014 to settle their child support issues. The judge initially suggested communicating via email, which was banned by the FRO, and when L.G-P rejected this idea, he ordered them to attend mediation sessions together as per their PSA.
However, the appellate court’s decision voided this order and the appellate judges stated that such an order was not in line with the FRO protection as it was designed and intended. “When parties agree to mediation at the time of divorce, they do not anticipate the subsequent entry of an FRO,” Appellate Judge Ellen Koblitz said in the ruling. “For reasons of safety, and to conform with the strong public policy of this state, mediation should not be ordered after a subsequent FRO has been entered.”
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our New Jersey family lawyers help spouses who are working through divorce or abuse accusations in the court systems and mediation, if necessary. To discuss your case and the options available to you during your divorce or after you have signed a PSA, contact an HCK attorney for a free, no-strings consultation today.