One way to reach an agreement is through mediation. Mediation is a confidential process where parties meet with a mediator, who is usually an attorney. The mediator is not an advocate for either party and does not give legal advice. As a result, the goal of mediation is not identifying what each party is entitled to under law, but rather ascertaining what each party can live with in terms of an agreement. At the conclusion of mediation, the mediator drafts a document called a Memorandum of Understanding, or “MOU.”
The MOU is a tentative, nonbinding statement of the terms discussed in mediation. Generally, the MOU is not an enforceable agreement and is typically afforded the same level of confidentiality as the mediation process itself. To make the MOU binding the parties, either directly or assisted by counsel, reduce the terms in the MOU into a Matrimonial Settlement Agreement or other applicable agreement (see, Agreements), which, when properly entered and executed, represents a binding resolution of the open issues.
Jennifer and Erin are both qualified family law mediators and experience great satisfaction in serving clients both as mediators, and as attorneys assisting clients undergoing mediation. Jennifer and Erin recommend engaging a family law attorney prior to or during the mediation process, even if the attorney does not attend the mediation. Why? Since the mediator does not give legal advice, a party should know the law and how his or her claims measure up according to the law. Learning this information preemptively instead of after-the-fact helps to prevent “buyer’s remorse”, which can arise, for example, when a party undertakes review of the MOU with an attorney after mediation.
Mediation is not the only path to an agreement. For example, parties can reach agreements directly with one another and then retain respective counsel to draft and finalize the terms; or attorneys can work directly with one another to reach agreements for their clients outside of mediation.
However, when agreements cannot be reached courts may become involved in a variety of ways:
A motion is an application to the court made prior to a plenary hearing or trial (both addressed below) asking the judge assigned to your case to resolve issues prior to a final resolution. Issues that can be addressed by motion include, child custody and parenting time, alimony, child support, “discovery” issues (addressing, for example, a party’s refusal to cooperate with the exchange of information necessary to settle your issues), and counsel and expert fee payments. If you are already divorced or have an agreement, order, or judgment in place, family law litigants can file motions “post-judgment.” In that scenario, the motion itself might be the only action pending (meaning no further proceedings or plenary hearing or trial maybe contemplated). Post-judgment applications can include but are not limited to requests to modify existing support obligations based on a change in circumstance or to modify the parenting schedule in furtherance of the child(ren)’s best interests.
In family law matters, there generally is no jury and a judge alone decides how the disputed issues are resolved. The parties typically testify as to their respective issues. Experts may be called to testify especially where there are issues over child custody, tracing or valuation of assets, marital lifestyle, employability, and other areas where the judge needs specialized information to decide an issue.
Plenary hearings are a type of “mini” trial. Typically, they arise post-judgment and center around a single issue such as college contribution or whether support should be modified or end due to retirement or other changed circumstances.
Lazor Rantas, PC exclusively handles family matters including those involving:
Agreements including premarital, cohabitation, post-marital, separation, marital, and custody and parenting time agreements.