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Mediation turned to litigation. Now what do I do? Final visit with mediator cancelled and I get served papers a week later.

Rutherford, NJ |

We went this route mainly because it was simple agreement that a divorce was necessary, as it was disclosed she started a relationship with someone, and there really was not allot of assets to split, as well as saving the children from the craziness.
Our final visit was schedule for Jan 21, but she cancelled the morning of. I've heard nothing as to why until I was served papers at my place of employment.
The mystery is the papers outline exactly what we took care of already, and disturbing in that I already invested allot of money into where we are. The alimony + child support was very generous, so I am unsure what this new motive could mean. I can't give my entire paycheck over which if its a move to get more money, that would be the case. Need advice!

Due to the limited space I was allotted, all I was able to squeeze in was above, as well as a comment to Sarah's advice. One other thing I found odd, on Feb 6 the soon-to-be ex wife mother called me. It was a very pleasant conversation and she was not aware where we were with the mediation, so the call was simply describing that, and it turned into a "how is everyone else doing" conversation. Nothing at all negative about her daughter. However that night I received an email on my personal account stating the following: "I have been contacted by my client and advised that you have been engaging in extremely disturbing behavior that can best be described as harassment, against my client, and her elderly parents. Such alarming behavior must immediately stop. Any further contact between you and my client is unwelcome." I did not respond to this, though have been tempted to this past week. It seems they were not aware the "elderly parent" contacted me, or the content of the conversation.

Attorney Answers 5

Posted

It is, of course, upsetting at best to be going through the divorce process. It is even more stressful and difficult when you think you and your ex to be are getting along (as best as two people can during the dissolution phase) and the matters seem to be resolving and the course changes. It is incredibly odd, though not unheard of, for one spouse to unilaterally end the mediation process and proceed with litigation.

In your description, you didn't mention whether the papers that were filed were done by your ex herself, or by a lawyer hired on your behalf. You also mentioned that the "final" meeting with the mediator was canceled, but you didn't mention whether a Memorandum of Understanding had been prepared by the mediator, circulated, executed by either of you, or what exact state of the process you were in procedurally at the time the mediation was canceled. These issues are critical. Furthermore, you state that the papers outline "what was taken care of" but it appears that your ex to be thinks that some other issues remain outstanding.
As one of my colleagues mentioned, you should be cautious about the time deadlines imposed by the Rules of Court and statutes; you don't want to be negligent about the process because the Court has the power, should you fail to respond or proceed, to treat you as absent.

At this time, it appears that, at a minimum, you should meet with a lawyer experienced in family law so as to get some fact-specific advice on both the process and the best way to proceed given the actions of your soon-to-be-ex. You do not want to enter into the litigation process, even if self-represented, without as much knowledge as possible. I urge you to have a consultation with someone who can give you advice tailored to your fact circumstances, especially after having the benefit of reviewing your paperwork and finding out key issues.

Good luck.

The information presented in this answer is for informational purposes only. The answer or the information contained within should, in no way, be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

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Posted

Thank you Sarah. Very helpful. The papers were filed by my ex, via a lawyer. The cover letter explains them to be a "Complaint for Divorce, Summons and Affidavit of Insurance". The final meeting was I believe to get this Memo of Understanding. Nothing was executed. We felt she would opt to take this back to her lawyer for review prior to signing. In the "Plaintiff demands judgement" section, there is a bullet list A thru K. (too many to list), which each were their own topic at prior mediation sessions. For example, "F. Compelling the Defendant to provide child support to the Plaintiff ..." which was worked out via some state supplied charts and worksheets around session 2. I even allowed child support for my 19 year old though it was not required. Other child is 16. So what I meant is each of A through K had its own session, or a few of them covered in 1 session, as each was 2.5 hours. However item J. "For counsel fees and costs", which appears she is asking me to pay for her council, as well as mine. As I paid for the whole mediation session to date, this would mean instead of 1 lawyer I now will be paying 3, which by all I am able to understand here, we may most likely end up with the same result in the end. My only thought as to why is she did not do her homework after each session and completely understand the financial aspect of the alimony portion. Instead of getting this Memo of Understanding and bringing it to her lawyer for review, she is opting to start the process all over again, which thank you, those involved are finding extremely odd.

Sarah Jennifer Jacobs

Sarah Jennifer Jacobs

Posted

It certainly does seem odd, that at the point that you would have finalized matters, she canceled the last session and filed affirmative pleadings. Pleadings would have inevitably been filed anyway, given that a Complaint must be opened to the Court in order for a divorce matter to proceed, but the timing seems somewhat unusual. The documents you describe are customary, as is the relief you reference in the Wherefore portion of the Complaint. I still think that you would be most served meeting with a lawyer, experienced in family law, to go over what you have from mediation and the specifics of the case. Things you mention are complex, and given that she has had legal advice throughout the mediation, and you have not, it would behoove you to at least meet with a lawyer who could guide you and give you some fact-specific feedback in order to give you better footing going forward. It is not uncommon to proceed to litigation once mediation has reached a certain point, but as with you, bells are going off for me. Also, some of the issues you reference from mediation have some nuances you may not be aware of, and a good mediator would not have provided you with advice on these issues since they are prohibited from doing so. I urge you to at least gather information to protect your rights going forward. Good luck!

Posted

It would be best for you to consult with a lawyer to understand your rights ans what you need to do to protect yourself.

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Posted

For whatever reason, your wife has decided to discontinue the mediation and start the litigation process. It sounds like you were served with the Divorce Complaint around January 28. You have 35 days from the date of service to file what is called a "responsive pleading" (either an Appearance, an Answer, or an Answer and Counterclaim).

Unless you plan to try to act as your own lawyer (an unwise decision in my opinion), you now need to meet with a very experiienced lawyer who devotes his/her practice exclusively to Divorce and Family Law matters.

Your choice of lawyer is critically important. Although your wife has chosen to file a Divorce Complaint and put the case into the court system, in my view you should retain an attorney who has special training and real experience in handling divorces utilizing all of the now widely-available alternative dispute resolution options, which include not only Divorce Mediation, but also Collaborative Divorce Practice and Cooperative Divorce Practice. That lawyer may be able to "guide" the case to an easier, quicker and less expensive resolution.

The decision to divorce is difficult enough. Don’t make it worse, by choosing a “tough” or “aggressive” New Jersey divorce lawyer who only pays “lip service” to trying to resolve all issues without litigation.

DISCLAIMER The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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Posted

I agree with the other attorneys, you need to retain an experienced lawyer and respond appropriately to the complaint. There is always a chance to return to mediation during the pendency of the lawsuit, your lawyer can advise you accordingly.

Legal disclaimer:This message does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Any statements are made for general informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client privilege is created by this communication. Attorney is licensed in California only.

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I agree with all of my colleagues responses. I can only urge you to consult with a knowledgeable attorney ASAP so that you can understand the process and all of your legal options and make sure that you do not miss any important Court deadlines.

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