Last fall, Governor Christie signed the New Jersey Collaborative Family Law Act after it passed unanimously through both the Senate and General Assembly. This legislation is modeled on a proposal from the New Jersey Law Revision Commission and the national Uniform Law Commission. The New Jersey Collaborative Family Law Act allows couples to have a marriage dissolved without court intervention through a process similar to mediation, in which both sides would be required to provide "timely, full, and candid disclosure" of relevant information without either side having to resort to discovery.
This demonstration of partisanship and constructive reform would allow couples who litigate their divorces in New Jersey to settle their cases through a newly enacted method called collaborative law. But according to recent statistics given by presiding judges in Morris; Sussex; Somerset; and Essex counties, approximately 97 percent of couples are still going through traditional divorces that end in settlements. So why aren't couples turning to collaboration to settle their divorces?
Even though New Jersey has one of the lowest divorce rates in the nation (6.9 per 1,000 women; 6.6 per 1,000 men), New Jersey is the ninth state to legitimize this process to reduce costs, improve the selection of options for divorcing spouses, reduce the impact of the divorce on children, and create new jobs in the legal, financial, and psychological health sectors.
This new area of New Jersey law has become the fourth official way to become divorced in New Jersey (and arguably the least costly). According to Assemblyman Holly Schepisi (R-Dist. 39), she introduced the New Jersey Collaborative Family Law Act because the cost of divorce was so high, ranging anywhere from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having a joint expert shared by both parties, for example, can significantly reduce the costs typically associated with litigation where each couple hires their own expert.
Any given New Jersey couple now has the option to choose to litigate, mediate, arbitrate, or collaborate. It seems logical that couples would embrace an agreement that they've played a part in performing and this method also allows couples to come up with creative solutions that judges can't decide in court through traditional options like open duration, term, rehabilitative, or reimbursement. Through the use of collaborative law, divorcing spouses have more control over elements of the divorce such as timing and terms of settlement.
Additionally, couples who choose collaboration can often resolve later disputes more easily because their divorce was openly discussed and resolved in a collaborative method with minimal court intervention.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 percent of all children will experience the divorce of their parents. Additionally, 20 to 25 percent of those children will suffer significant adjustment problems as teenagers that they will carry into adulthood.
Because of the amiable nature of collaborative divorce, many couples are able to come up with a co-parenting plan (attached to their divorce decree) and establish a mutually agreeable system of handling their children's finances and other aspects of the child's care. This saves the child from becoming collateral damage as a result of drawn-out arguments and further emotional stress.
Lastly, this legislative reform has the potential to create new jobs while certainly strengthening and standardizing professional training and skills of existing collaborative professionals. Talia Katz, CEO of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, states, "We all quickly realized that divorce is not just a legal event. It's an emotional event. It's a financial event."
According to a survey by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, 62% of respondents said the number of new clients coming through their doors has remained steady or actually increased since the start of the recession. This new sector of financial advising through divorce agreements allows analysts to advise clients see how different financial arrangements play out after any given number of years (one, two, five, ten, retirement years) using family law software. Trough the help of this software, divorce financial planners can analyze components such as the tax impact of their alimony, child support, and individual income to help divorcing spouses make logical, informed decisions that formulate an effective financial strategy.
According to the New Jersey Collaborative Law Group, collaborative divorce bolsters civility through the termination of a marriage. One possible explanation for this civility could be the introduction of collaborative divorce coaches. Aaron Welt, a Morristown clinical psychologist who is now employed in the collaborative law field, says that as a divorce coach he advises clients to "recognize a fair deal when you see it and you can't let certain emotions like anger, regret, or resentment cloud your judgment." These divorce coaches typically work to reduce the emotional stress of the collaborative process.
According to an article by The Daily Record, a range of mental health experts - including clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychiatrists, substance abuse specialists, and compulsive behavior specialists - can be drawn into the process as needed, as can real estate and financial specialists.
Collaborative divorce agreements are most popular along the east coast and west coast, but experts predict that expansion will continue toward the Midwestern region of the U.S.
Let us know what you think about New Jersey's collaborative divorce legislation and tweet @HARDENJACKSON.
The attorneys of Harden Jackson Law are devoted to servicing clients throughout the Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana in all areas family law, including divorce, custody, child support, property division, paternity, post-divorce modifications, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, simple wills, adoption, surrogacy and other areas of assisted reproductive technology law. For more information, please contact us at 317.569.0770 or www.hardenjacksonlaw.com.
Remember, these blog posts are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.