Court-Ordered Mediation in New Jersey Custody Cases

New Jersey courts may require parents in custody cases to attend the free and confidential mediation they provide, although parents can choose to go to a private mediator instead.

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method where parents meet with a mediator to talk through their disagreements in the hopes of settling.

Courts offer two types: custody mediation and economic mediation.

Custody mediation is for all parents in a custody-related case, as long as the case doesn't involve emergency orders or domestic violence.

Economic mediation is only for divorcing parents who don't resolve all financial disputes at the Early Settlement Panel. When victims of domestic violence find themselves in this situation, they choose whether to try economic mediation.

If parents aren't able to settle at mediation, they proceed through the rest of the court process.

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Preparing for mediation

The key to preparing for mediation is to consider what's best for your child.

To get started, draft a parenting plan complete with various options for parenting time schedules. The organized format will help the mediator and the other parent understand your position.

Consider bringing other documents to support your case, such as:


The timing of mediation varies.

Custody mediation happens either before the initial case management conference or months after a case opens. Some counties prefer parents to attend mediation before any court appearances to expedite the case, while others hold a conference first to ensure parents get along well enough to mediate.

Economic mediation occurs a few weeks after the Early Settlement Panel.

The first mediation session lasts a few hours. Parents can ask to attend more meetings if they're making progress. (Note that mandatory economic mediation is only free for the first two hours.)

Mediation procedure

Mediation happens in one of these settings:

  • At the courthouse
  • In the mediator's office (for economic mediation only)
  • Over the phone (occasionally an option for custody mediation)

Attorneys usually don't attend custody mediation but do participate in economic mediation, since finances can be complex.

During the session, the mediator hears each parent's side, then suggests compromises.

Custody mediation covers topics like legal and physical custody and child-rearing disputes, but never child support. Economic mediation includes child support, alimony, division of property, etc.

All decisions are left to the parents. They can leave without any resolutions, agree on every issue, or just agree on some and litigate the rest.

If they don't reach a full agreement, the mediator may write a note to the court listing the outstanding issues and whether the parents want to attend more sessions. The court may postpone other scheduled court dates if it approves more sessions.

For issues parents do agree on, the mediator writes up an outline of the terms. Parents and their lawyers can review it for accuracy.

Attorneys write the terms into a proposed final order. If parents don't have lawyers, they can write custody terms into a parenting plan. Divorcing parents can write all agreements into their marital settlement agreement. Then parents move on to the settlement process.

Tips for parents going to court-ordered mediation

  • Put your child's needs before your own.
  • Wait until it's your turn to talk.
  • Remain cordial and respectful. The purpose is to express your viewpoints, not to argue.
  • Acknowledge aspects of the other parent's proposal that you like.
  • Don't feel pressured to agree to any terms you do not want.

Tools for mediation

If mediation goes well, you could walk out with a parenting plan that will last until your child becomes an adult. Are you ready?

Bring a parenting plan and multiple parenting time schedules to suggest. You might also bring a list of child-related expenses or entries from a parenting journal.

The Custody X Change app enables you to create all these items in one place.

Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared not only for mediation but for every step of your custody case.

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