Due to the state’s judge shortage crisis, divorce trials in Essex County, home to the state’s busiest courthouse, have been on hold since December 2011. Still waiting for your day in court? Depending on the issues involved, it may be wise to ask your divorce attorney if a form of alternative dispute resolution is appropriate in your case. Two of the most popular alternatives to litigation include:
Mediation: If both parties are willing, private divorce mediation can accomplish the same goals as litigation, but comes with the added bonus of helping you feel more in control of the divorce process.
What Happens: In a typical divorce mediation session, you and your spouse sit down with your attorneys and a neutral professional known as the mediator (often a lawyer or retired judge). At first, you may take turns identifying your individual needs and wants. The mediator then tries to facilitate a settlement discussion, talking about compromises that might make sense in your situation. However, a mediator only makes recommendations when asked — his or her sole goal as a neutral professional is to get the parties to come to a resolution that they can both live with. It should be noted that this process is not recommended for divorces where abuse or domestic violence is present.
What Else to Know: Mediation is completely private and non-binding. Let’s say your July 14 court date is postponed and you give mediation a try, but it doesn’t work out to your satisfaction and you decide to go before a judge in the fall. The courts won’t know what happened behind closed doors, so nothing that happened during mediation can be used against you (nor can it be used against your spouse). With that said, however, mediation is so popular precisely because people are getting the results they want.
Arbitration: Getting divorced through arbitration is similar to mediation in that it’s confidential and an out-of-court type settlement, but the arbitrator is the one who in the end decides the terms of the divorce, much the same as a judge.
What Happens: In a typical arbitration session, a neutral arbitrator–often a lawyer or retired judge–sits in a room with a stenographer and takes testimony. Unlike the give and take of mediation, you need to go into an arbitration meeting prepared and ready to present your case to this person in the exact same way you would a judge. After listening to both sides, the arbitrator deliberates and then hands down a binding decision that you will need to live with (or go to court to appeal).
What Else to Know: If you feel you have a very strong case and have demands that you know your spouse will not compromise to meet, this type of alternative dispute resolution may be the route to take. For those who want a third part to make a decision, but don’t want to linger in court system limbo over the summer, arbitration can be a very efficient way to reach a settlement.