Divorce in NJ During COVID-19: Think Collaboratively
Recent weeks have caused us all to endure changes and challenges. This is particularly true in states like New Jersey, which is among the hardest hit states by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Those who no longer wish to be with their spouse or partner are faced with unique challenges.
We all find ourselves in the “new normal” of social distancing, mandatory “shelter in place” orders, working remotely, or newly unemployed. Spouses who find themselves working remotely or recently unemployed may find that staying together in the same residence 24 hours a day for weeks may accelerate or emphasize any issues present in a marriage.
What is one to do if they realize that they no longer wish to remain married to their partner? This is a good question, since the Family Courts in New Jersey are all operating remotely for the time being, and are largely hearing only truly emergent matters via telephone conferences or Zoom.
There is an alternative to traditional divorce litigation that is perfectly suited for the present circumstances: Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative Divorce is a more civil and amicable approach than traditional divorce litigation, and is usually a less expensive option. It is a “team” approach, with the parties gathering a group of professionals to assist them in the break up or divorce rather than having the “battle of the experts,” which often happens in traditional divorce litigation.
In a Collaborative Divorce, both parties hire family law attorneys that have been specifically trained in Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative Divorces may also involve non-party participants who are not attorneys, which are experts in their fields. These individuals may provide helpful insight on different topics. These types of experts include:
- Divorce Coach
- Financial Neutral
- Mortgage Expert
After Collaborative Attorneys are hired, they will usually choose a Divorce Coach, who is a mental health professional, to join the parties’ team of professionals to help them navigate through the process. Typically, both parties meet with the Divorce Coach (either separately or together) prior to the first Collaborative meeting to give the divorce coach some information as to their family dynamic and background. This helps the Divorce Coach recognize any potential issues during the Collaborative meetings. Under more usual circumstances, these meetings too would be in person, but are now being performed virtually.
After the parties meet with the Divorce Coach, the first Collaborative Team meeting is scheduled. At that meeting, the parties review and sign a written Participation Agreement in which the parties agree not to go to Court to reach a resolution of the issues in their divorce. Instead of going to Court, the parties and their Collaborative Attorneys, as well as any other professionals deemed necessary, meet at a series of meetings with the goal of resolving all of the issues in their case. These meetings are typically in-person meetings, but can easily be done via virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Once an agreement is reached, the attorneys simply apply to the Court for the actual dissolution of marriage.
There is an additional benefit to the Collaborative Law, too: the parties retain control over the timing of the process. In other words, the parties—not the Court—decide when the next meetings will be scheduled; therefore, they set the pace of their Collaborative Divorce.
In a time where virtually all litigated cases are at a standstill, Collaborative Divorce is an ideal option for parties that wish to resolve their differences and ensure their divorce is proceeding during the time when the Courts are only handling emergent matters, or will be backlogged after they re-open.