Mediated Settlement Agreement Requirements

Divorce cases are notorious for dragging out months or even years.  Family law cases, including divorce, can be highly contentious, especially because of the highly personal nature of the subject matter of the litigation.  Fortunately, it is becoming more and more common for parties to settle some or even all of their issues before getting to a final divorce hearing.  One way this may be achieved is when the parties attend mediation.  During mediation, the parties will sit down with a neutral third party, who will facilitate communication between the parties to help them get to an agreement on the issues.  Mediation can be a very useful tool and is frequently successful, but it is important to understand there are specific requirements for a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) to be enforceable in a New Jersey divorce.

One essential requirement is that for an MSA to be enforceable, it must be in writing and signed by the parties.  In other words, if the parties reach a “hand shake” deal at mediation, but do not set out the terms in writing and then sign the agreement, neither party can enforce that agreement.  Moreover, without a written agreement, the court is not allowed to consider evidence of any discussions or even an unsigned agreement from mediation.

If the parties have no children together, when the MSA is presented to the trial judge for his or her review, the judge will not get into the specifics of the agreement.  The court will want evidence that both spouses believe the agreement is fair and reasonable, and that they voluntarily executed the agreement (i.e. they were not coerced into signing).  The court will want to make sure that both parties speak English and understand the terms of the agreement.  The court will have both parties testify that they were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of signing or at the time of court, and that both parties agree to be bound by the MSA.  Finally, the court is likely to want the parties to state that they each understand that by signing the MSA, they waive their right to go to trial on the issues settled in the MSA, and also that each was satisfied with the services provided by their respective attorneys.

When the parties share children, the court’s inquiry will go a bit deeper.  The court is likely to review the custody agreement to make sure that it  seems reasonable (i.e. that the provisions would not endanger the child).  The court will also review the child support worksheet.  If the child support in the MSA does not conform to the New Jersey support guidelines, the court will require that the parties provide a valid reason to deviate from the guidelines.

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If you are facing divorce, you need an experienced team to help you.  Contact us today to talk about your divorce and how we can help you with mediation or any other aspect of your case.

Are you interested in seeking an annulment? If so, contact Williams Law Group, LLC right away. Our family law attorneys will review your case to determine if an annulment is an option. If it is, we will guide you through the process and ensure you make the best decisions for your future. Call our office at (908) 738-8512, email us, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation

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