Mediated Agreement Without Party Signatures Was Held To Be Binding
- July 17, 2015
- No comments
In Campbell v. Campbell, the Defendant appealed from the incorporation unsigned parenting time agreement into the parties’ final divorce judgment after a failed attempt at mediation. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The parties in this case have two (2) sons who were aged six and ten at the time of the agreement. The younger son has special needs and has suffered from epilepsy. The terms of the agreement in question were reached during a mediation which was held in 2012. The agreement was written down by the mediator. The resulting Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was unsigned, but the case was reported to the court as settled concerning all parenting time issues. The Defendant filed an Answer to the divorce Complaint, before the mediation, containing a parenting time plan that gave him the same schedule with the children that was reached in the MOU except rather than two week night dinner visits, he would have had one weekly dinner and one weekly overnight visit. In the MOU the parties agreed to joint legal custody along with the parenting time designation for each parent including summer vacations and holidays. The reasons for the delay in signing the MOU were disputed, but in the interim, the Defendant rejected the terms of the MOU unless the Plaintiff agreed to modify it to include two (2) weekly overnights with his children along with some other changes. The Plaintiff agreed to make some of the changes but not all. Two months after the mediation session and after the continued negotiation the Defendant rejected the MOU. In 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Motion seeking to incorporate the MOU into the parties’ divorce decree. The Family Court judge granted the Plaintiff’s Motion after observing that the children substantially benefited from the parties’ agreement and that the MOU could be modified slightly for the best interests of the children. According to the Appellate Division, it is well established that our judicial system encourages and supports negotiated agreements between divorcing parties. Weishaus v. Weishaus, 180 N.J. 131, 143 (2004); Konzelman v. Konzelman, 158 N.J. 185, 193 (1999). Mediation is an alternative means of resolving parenting conflicts and is also available to “resolve aspects of family law matters.” Court Rule 1:405(b)(2). The statutory source for mediation is the Mediation Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:23C-1 to -13. The court found that in this case, after the parties reached an agreement, the Defendant had a gradual change of heart and that triggered a new round of litigation . Under the circumstances, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court holding that the Family Court judge’s ultimate decision to incorporate the MOU into the divorce decree was based upon weighty equitable considerations that warrant the enforcement of the document. If you believe that mediation is possible in your divorce or family law matter be sure to contact an attorney experienced in mediation and proper drafting and execution of Memorandums of Understanding. For more information about mediation, post-judgment modification, parenting time, equitable distribution, divorce, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit the DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice if an attorney.