New Jersey Divorce Chronicles, Part 13: Reaching A Settlement

reaching a divorce settlement

For more than a year now we have been following two couples through the process of deciding to divorce, consulting with attorneys, and choosing whether to begin their cases in private mediation or in the court system. We focused primarily on one spouse in each couple: Sharon, who was married to Robert for 13 years, and Jason, who was married to Melissa for 11 years. Sharon decided to jump directly into litigation, while Jason opted to pursue mediation first. By the end of 2015, both couples were close to wrapping up all of their divorce issues. Let’s see how things have worked out for each of them:

Jason and Melissa:

When we last saw Jason and Melissa, in Part 11, they were very close to working out a full settlement agreement in mediation. Following their fourth mediation session, each of them scheduled an attorney consultation to talk about alimony and child support. After getting feedback from their respective attorneys, they were able to work out their remaining loose ends in one final session. They agreed to use the alimony and child support calculations from their fourth session as a starting point, and build in a step down schedule based on estimated future full-time earnings for Melissa. Melissa would have 18 months before the step downs began to look for the right position. This also gave her time to ensure that their youngest child, Brianna, was well-settled into full-time school.

According to the step down schedule, alimony payments would phase out gradually over a period of 8-years. Since the schedule depended heavily on anticipated events, Jason and Melissa agreed that it would be fair to keep it modifiable in case things developed in a substantially different manner than expected. They also agreed that before either of them filed any modification requests in court, they would first return to mediation to try to work things out.

With child support and alimony settled, everything else fell into place. Jason and Melissa had already agreed on most aspects of property distribution, and they were happy to stick with their temporary child custody arrangement that was working well. With the support amounts now specified, Melissa was able to refinance the family home and continue living there for the foreseeable future.

Sharon and Robert:

In Part 12, we saw Sharon and Robert also approaching a settlement in their case, but only after initially embarking on a very different course. Reacting to concerns over Robert’s lifestyle, and later egged on by a particularly aggressive attorney, Sharon came out ready to do battle in court. After some initial setbacks, she managed to regroup, get her emotions under better control, and see a more realistic path toward the future. Once she and Robert finally talked things over calmly, they were able to reach an agreement on most of their issues. Sharon decided that it made sense to withdraw their case from litigation and try to complete an out-of-court settlement.

Eventually Robert and Sharon scheduled one private mediation session to put their agreements into writing and resolve the one remaining issue of what to do with the house. In mediation, they worked out an agreement that allowed Robert to continue living in the house while he completed his school program and looked for a full-time job. He would take over the mortgage payments and other expenses, but would not attempt to buy out Sharon’s equity in the home until he finished his school program and found work. The terms of the future buy-out were set in advance, with contingencies written into the agreement. They agreed that if Robert was not able or willing to buy Sharon out within the next three years, Sharon would receive the option to buy him out. If she was unable or unwilling to pursue that option, they would instead sell the house together and divide the proceeds. They also agreed to return to mediation to work out any future disputes before either of them filed any papers in court.

The takeaway from these settlement outcomes, and the process these couples went through to reach these terms? Read our next, and final, installment now: New Jersey Divorce Chronicles Part 14: Analyzing Outcomes.

Reached a stalemate in your divorce and wondering where to go from here? Just at the beginning of the process? For a confidential analysis of your divorce, please contact us to schedule your initial consultation. Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group offers both attorney and family law mediation services.