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.
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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.
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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.
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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