High conflict divorces often result in unnecessary and contentious custody or parenting time disputes. The conflict between parents regarding their perceptions as to the fault of the other parent, the involvement of third parties, asset distribution or alimony often compromises the parties’ ability to objectively focus upon the best interests of their children.

When that occurs, the children’s relationship with one or both of the parents is almost always affected and the contentiousness is almost always damaging to the children. The conflict between the parents may become so intense that they are no longer able to focus on the best interests of the children and, in the worst case scenarios, the children often become helpless pawns or “spies” in the parents’ “war.”

There are two very constructive and generally successful alternatives provided by the New Jersey Court system as useful alternatives to mitigate such adverse consequences to the children. Both alternatives can be of significant benefit to the children, but both require an honest and good faith effort by the parties themselves. Each involves utilization of an objective third party with the hope that the objectivity of a third party can help well meaning and well intended, but temporarily misguided parents to see their way through their own divorce or separation conflicts and to refocus on the children’s best interest.

New Jersey Rules of Court provide that when “the Court finds that either the custody of children or parenting time issues, or both, are a genuine and substantive issue the Court shall refer the case to mediation.”

The mediation process is conducted directly by the parties themselves and almost always without the initial involvement of attorneys. Anything which is said during the mediation process is completely confidential and cannot be subsequently used by either party if the mediation is not successful.

All evaluations or expert assessments are generally deferred while the mediation is in progress, and the mediation cannot last any longer than two (2) months from the date it commences, unless specifically extended by the Court. If the mediation is successful in resolving the matters at issue, the mediator prepares a memorandum outlining the parties’ agreement, subject to the review and approval of the parties’ attorneys, and submits the memorandum directly to the Court for incorporation as an Order of the Court (Consent Order).

If the mediation is not successful, the mediator simply reports that to the Court and to counsel for the parties without comment as to the reasons for the failure, and the Court will process the matter to its ultimate conclusion without reference to anything which was said or occurred in the mediation. The mediation process is often highly successful. It is generally believed that between 60% and 70% of the cases which are submitted to mediation are ultimately resolved.