Mediation can be a highly cost-effective way to settle disputes in divorce. In certain situations, divorcing parties elect to attend mediation without hiring attorneys as an additional cost-saving measure. If you intend to go to mediation without an attorney, there are some important things to keep in mind.
First, and most importantly, remember the mediator is not your attorney. He or she does not represent you. Mediators are “neutrals,” and are not supposed to provide you with legal advice. Moreover, as a neutral, the mediator should not allow either party to overwhelm the other. Good mediators will “level the playing field” during mediation. If you do not feel comfortable in the mediation setting, it may not be the right choice for you particularly if you do not have an attorney.
Second, it is important to know that all settlement offers made during mediation are confidential. This means that, if mediation is unsuccessful, both parties are prohibited from telling the judge what was offered during mediation. The reason for this policy is to encourage open and frank settlement discussions. You cannot later tell the Court what you or the other party offered to settle the case.
Third, never feel pressured to sign anything without an attorney reviewing the terms. The recent unpublished Appellate Division Decision of Mathurin v. Mathurin, A-3224-17T2 reiterates the principle that for an agreement reached in divorce mediation to be binding, it must be signed by the parties and/or their attorneys. Without a signature, any settlement terms purportedly reached at mediation are considered confidential settlement negotiations as discussed above.
However, once you sign an agreement – no matter how open it is to interpretation – you can expect the court to enforce it. Accordingly, it is critical that before you sign anything, have an experienced attorney review the proposed agreement with you.
If you have attended mediation without an attorney, contact us to review the proposed settlement terms before signing.
For more information on mediation, read out related post – Is Mediation the Right Solution for Your Divorce Disputes?