At a successful mediation, the parties will leave with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which is an outline of the terms that the parties have agreed to. The mediator will advise the parties to take the MOU to their respective attorneys for the parties to each review with their attorney and for the attorneys to draft a more formal agreement-the Settlement Agreement-which not only sets forth the terms that the parties agreed to but adds in additional details, such as setting forth mechanisms for implementing the terms agreed upon at mediation, and includes all of the legal language necessary to create a binding agreement.
Since mediation is a voluntary process designed to get the parties to come to an agreement without the parties having their attorneys present, it is a good idea to not wait until the end before taking the agreement reached at mediation to your attorney. It is a better process for the parties to each have their attorneys available to them to either bounce ideas off of them or to know what their legal rights are so that they can make an informed decision at mediation and come up with an agreement that will work. If the parties come to an agreement at mediation and incorporate those terms into a settlement agreement that both sign, the Court will not be reviewing the terms contained int eh agreement. All that the judge ever wants to know is that the parties freely and voluntarily agreed to these terms, so it is important that each party have the ability to review their agreement with an attorney of their choice.
If after the parties reach agreement at mediation and consult with their attorneys a comprehensive settlement agreement is prepared incorporating and expanding on the terms reached in mediation, the parties can then sign the settlement agreement and have the Court then dissolve the marriage and incorporate the signed settlement agreement into their Final Judgment of Divorce, giving it the effect of a Court Order in the event that either party needs to ever come back to Court seeking enforcement of the terms contained in the settlement agreement.
Bari Zell-Weinberger is a Certified New Jersey divorce lawyer and partner with the firm of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC. in Parsippany, New Jersey, where she exclusively practices family and matrimonial law.