New Jersey Mediator Offers Cost Effective Way to Settle Divorce DisputesJun 30, 2021 02:50PM ● By Sheila Julson
When Patricia Hammel went through a painful and very costly divorce, she realized there had to be a more streamlined, economical way for couples to negotiate assets and custody issues. Through Dignified Separation Divorce and Family Mediation Service, the mediation practice Hammel founded in 2016, she helps people circumvent expensive legal fees resulting from court trials and hearings.
Mediation is a process where a neutral third person, the mediator, helps the parties communicate and try to resolve a dispute. Hammel has an associate degree in prelaw and worked as a paralegal for many years. She’s an accredited divorce mediator through the New Jersey Court System. She serves clients in Warren, Hunterdon, Morris and Sussex counties.
Mediator’s fees cost much less than attorney’s fees, and a mediator can do much of the paperwork that one would have to pay an attorney to do. “New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means you get the same thing in mediation that you would get in court litigation,” Hammel explains.
New Jersey state law requires that prior to filing for divorce, couples must submit a “memorandum of understanding,” which Hammel says comprises about 90 percent of the divorce process. “The attorneys can write it, or you can sit down with a mediator who can write it,” Hammel says.
When couples begin the divorce process with litigation, attorneys immediately file a case number, which means that every step of the process involves a court hearing. Both parties then quickly accumulate legal fees. Through mediation, nothing is filed with the court system until negotiations are settled and all the paperwork is completed. The process can go quickly or take as long as necessary.
“I keep couples on track during the session—if they start getting off track with accusations and finger-pointing, I stop the session. I get them to talk about common sense ways to equally distribute assets and how to co-parent. A divorce is already painful enough, but if both parties can reach an agreement, the mediation process can go much faster than going to court to resolve these issues,” Hammel says.
Once Hammel completes the paperwork, couples can file it themselves or have an attorney file it. Even if couples pay an attorney to file, it’s still more cost effective because most of the tedious work has already been done.
Hammel emphasizes that with mediation, clients can still have an attorney review the paperwork she produces. “By using a mediation, you’re not superseding your right to an attorney to review the paperwork.” She doesn’t charge a retainer and has an hourly pay-as-you-go fee structure. She signs confidentiality agreements with each client.
Mediation Can be Easier on Children
Adults often run the gamut of emotions during a divorce process, but it can be as equally hard on their kids. “I encourage couples to agree that the past is the past. We focus on the present and how they can coparent together. That’s my goal—to make the process heathier for the children.”
An amicable divorce process makes it easier to co-parent in the long run, Hammel notes, because parents can be more civil toward each other when they must see each other at special occasions or events such as kid’s ball games or dance recitals.
Hammel also offers mediation for custody issues for unmarried couples. She says most people are good candidates for mediation, especially if they strive to act in the child’s best interests. She has a referral network of marriage counselors and attorneys for couples that may need those services. Although she had one couple reconcile during mediation, she primarily refers couples to counselors so they can gain the emotional skills needed to coparent in their child’s best interest.
“In order for joint parenting to be successful, you have to be able to communicate. Sometimes people need counseling not to reconcile but to just get on the same page,” Hammel concludes. “If both parties can agree to agree, you can save lots of money.”
Hammel will see couples together or separately. She offers free consultations and meets clients in-person, virtually or by phone.
Dignified Separation Divorce and Family Mediation Service is located at 68 Youmans Ave., in Washington, New Jersey. For more information, call 908-693-0242 or visit DignifiedMediation.com