Can Changes Be Made After Agreed Upon Mediation?
There are many ways that divorces can be resolved outside of a courtroom. These alternative dispute resolution (ADR) formats are likely to be cheaper, faster, and easier than fighting a divorce all the way through trial in court, but they do require voluntary participation by both parties. Alternative dispute resolution may take the form of arbitration, mediation, or collaborative divorce, among others. The legal effect of ADR proceedings can be confusing, however. When the parties reach an agreement in mediation, is that agreement legally binding? Can the agreement be changed after the parties sign on the dotted line? Continue reading to learn about modifying or vacating a mediation agreement, and reach out to a dedicated New Jersey divorce and support modifications attorney for assistance with a matter of New Jersey family law.
The Mediation Process is Nonbinding
Mediation only works when both parties enter into the process voluntarily. Mediation can be ended by either party at any time during the process. If either party feels that mediation is not working, that the mediator is not impartial, or that proper litigation is necessary to resolve certain disputes, they can end the mediation process and take the matter to a traditional court.
The mediator is not a judge and does not issue a binding order at the end of the process. Instead, the mediator helps the parties come to agreement on the issues pertinent to a divorce, including child support, alimony, child custody, and the equitable division of property. The mediator’s goal is to make sure all divorce issues are addressed and help the parties find a resolution to all of these issues without needing to go to court.
Ultimately, mediation is meant to result in a settlement agreement upon which both parties agree. The mediation agreement becomes a legally binding contract when fully executed. Moreover, parties typically take the mediation agreement to court, where the judge will incorporate the agreement as part of the final divorce judgment. The mediation agreement will then have the legal force of a court order. If both parties agree that there is reason to modify the agreement and/or court order, a court may grant an amendment. If only one party seeks to challenge the agreement, however, they face an uphill battle.
Challenging a Mediation Settlement Agreement
At any point before a settlement is reached, there is nothing stopping either party from ending the proceedings. Once the agreement is signed, however, it has the force of a binding contract. If one party seeks to amend the agreement, they have a few options.
First, they can ask the other party to amend the agreement; parties who entered a contract can modify the contract voluntarily. The parties will need to make sure the new mediation agreement satisfies all of the appropriate legal requirements. Second, the party can challenge the agreement in family court before the final divorce judgment is entered. The challenging party will likely need to show that there was some issue with the mediation that necessitates invalidating the agreement, such as if the divorce mediator improperly interpreted state law, the evidence leading to the agreement was lacking, one party lied about their assets or other relevant matters, or the agreement was entered into under duress.
Once a court has entered an order incorporating the mediation agreement, changing the terms can be more challenging. The party seeking to change the order must petition the court to amend the order. Judges typically do not amend a court order without good cause, unless both parties agree. If there has been a change in financial circumstances, for example, then a party may be able to alter their support obligation down the line. Talk to a seasoned family law attorney about your divorce settlement agreement to discuss your options for making modifications.
Trusted Legal Help for Your New Jersey Divorce Mediation or Litigation
If you need dedicated and persistent legal help with divorce mediation, paternity, child custody, premarital agreements, child support, alimony, or other family law matters in New Jersey, contact the Union offices of family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102.