The New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act (hereinafter “the Act”) allows parties, with independent counsel, the opportunity to resolve family law disputes in “…a voluntary, non-adversarial manner, without court intervention…” To facilitate this process, both parties meet together, along with their separate counsel and other nonparty professionals, in an effort to reach an amicable resolution to a family matter in dispute, with the shared intent for the process to replace litigation. Accordingly, the family collaborative law process terminates upon either party or their attorney commencing a proceeding with the court or other tribunal1 related to the family matter in dispute, other than requesting that a settlement agreement reached in family collaborative law be incorporated into a final judgment.
As aforementioned, parties and their counsel can elect for additional nonparty professionals to participate in the the family collaborative law process. Pursuant to the Act, nonparty professionals may include, but are not limited to, “…a certified financial planner, certified public accountant, licensed clinical social worker, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and psychiatrists.” Importantly, the elected professionals serve as neutral experts and are subject to privilege, meaning they cannot disclose information regarding the family law matter in dispute or the family collaborative law meetings, absent an exception to this rule as provided in the Act. Thus, parties are encouraged to speak freely with the protection of this privilege, similar to the mediation process.
In addition to confidentiality, the family collaborative law participation agreement also protects parties who wish to participate in this process. In fact, the family collaborative law process cannot begin until both parties sign the agreement. Per the Act, the agreement must include the parties’ intent to resolve their dispute through family collaborative law, describe the nature and scope of the dispute and provide the confidentiality of family collaborative law communications by a party or nonparty participant. Moreover, the agreement must include the manner by which the process begins and terminates, identify the family collaborative lawyer who represents each party and explain their limitations.
The Act also specifies events that trigger the end of the family collaborative law process. Specifically, the process concludes upon a resolution as to the family law dispute evidenced by a signed settlement agreement. Additionally, the process will terminate upon notice by one party to the other, filing a document with a court or tribunal absent an agreement to do so, entry of a restraining order in favor of one party against another party to the process, filing an emergent application or failing to provide information required for the process. The process will also terminate if a family collaborative lawyer is discharged or ceases representation of their client. Thereafter, a lawyer associated with the same firm as the family collaborative lawyer cannot represent either party in the family law dispute or a proceeding related to the collaborative law process.
Ultimately, the Family Collaborative Law Act provides a unique opportunity for parties to a family law dispute who wish to avoid litigation, as well as provides significant protections for the parties and nonparty participants who are involved with the process.
1 Per the New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act, a tribunal other than the court includes “…an arbitrator or administrative agency, as applicable, that after presentation of evidence or legal argument, has jurisdiction to render a decision affecting a party’s interest in a matter.”
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