If you live in Bergen County and have a divorce or family law matter headed for trial, get ready for a possible delay or change of venue. In a newly released statement, Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter Doyne has announced a halt to lengthy trials in civil and family cases starting next month. As of September 15, no Civil or Criminal Division trials will be conducted if they are expected to last longer than two weeks, subject to the discretion of the presiding judge. The reason for this dramatic move: judge shortages and an ever-growing case back log. The situation in Bergen County mirrors problems experienced in nearby Essex County and other vicinages throughout New Jersey.
What could this mean for your divorce? If you have a pending trial in Bergen County, the silver lining to the announced suspensions might be the renewed opportunity to step back and re-evaluate your matter.
Are there any issues you now think could be resolved without going to court?
Have the two of you cooled off enough that perhaps you could sit down with the help of a mediator to work through your differences?
Is it important to you to settle your matter sooner rather than later?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be a good idea at this point to explore the many methods of “alternative dispute resolution” available to you in New Jersey. Not only can these out-of-court methods help you resolve your matter in less time than going to trial, but methods such as mediation, arbitration and negotiation can save you money and stress.
Here is what each one entails, along with links for more information:
Mediation: A popular way in New Jersey to reach resolution in a divorce or family law matter (including child support, child custody, alimony and asset division issues), mediation involves hiring a New Jersey mediator, a neutral third party who helps you and your spouse negotiate and settle your own matters. Mediation is a relatively fast and amicable, low-stress process. It’s also nonbinding, which means that if you are not satisfied with the result, you don’t have to accept it. (For more, see our article on the pros and cons of litigation vs. mediation.)
Be aware that even if you still decide to go to trial, you can mediate certain parts of your divorce (i.e., mediate child support payments if this not really contested), thus reducing the issues that need to be presented before the judge. In Bergen County, this might help your trial not be considered “lengthy” as the notice from Judge Doyne states.
Negotiation: This ADR method is as basic as it sounds. When a matter is negotiated, all parties involved meet to work through and reach an amicable agreement, usually with the assistance of their attorneys. Through effective negotiation, you and your spouse can remain in full control of your divorce process and decide, for yourselves, important issues such as alimony, child custody, child support and division of assets and debts.
Arbitration: Arbitration is similar to a trial because testimony is taken, although the rules of evidence are simplified. In New Jersey, couples hire the arbitrator, who is usually a retired judge, to hear their matter. Unlike mediation, both parties agree to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator (again, very much like a trial). Although arbitration does limit your control during a divorce, it can be a preferable and less costly solution for divorcing couples who have failed to reach an amicable agreement through mediation or negotiation.
We understand the stress and pressure you may feeling if your trial is delayed. To discuss which court alternatives might be right for you, please contact us to schedule your initial consultation.