Enforcing Oral Mediation Agreements with Morris County NJ Attorneys
Building Family Life Plans Out of Family Law Problems across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and Morris County
The family law area of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation, negotiation, and arbitration is a proven and effective method for resolving divorce, civil union dissolution, child custody, child support, spousal support, division of assets and debt and other family law issues while simultaneously helping clients to avoid the stress, and cost, of traditional courtroom-based litigation.
While time and effort may be invested in negotiating and reaching a settlement, it’s not uncommon that in the days or weeks following, one party changes their mind and decides to back away from their oral agreement. Some may feel that if an agreement is not in writing or signed he or she is free and clear of any obligation to the other party. That is not true.
Our attorneys at Jacobs Berger provides spouses the opportunity to understand their rights and responsibilities under settlement agreements, address their family law disputes with less hostility, and achieve custom-tailored results. We can help you with your divorce agreement so you will be protected in the future and achieve fair resolutions, while taking into account you and your family’s unique needs.
The Stability of Oral Settlement Agreements in New Jersey
The state of New Jersey favors the stability of settlement agreements, and presumes them to be valid and enforceable. According to Nolan v. Lee Ho, 120 N.J. 465, “settlement agreement between parties to a lawsuit is a contract,” and “settlement of litigation ranks high in our public policy.”
In addition, Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11 concluded that “settlement agreements in matrimonial matters, being ‘essentially consensual and voluntary in character, … [are] entitled to considerable weight with respect to their validity and enforceability’ in equity, provided they are fair and just.”
Filing a Harrington Motion to Enforce an Oral Mediation Agreement
If your co-parent reneges on an oral agreement made during mediation, you should talk with your attorney about filing a “Harrington motion.” This litigation tool originates from the Harrington v. Harrington, 281 N.J. Super. 39 decision, where an appellate court ruled that a verbal agreement could be enforceable and binding if the major terms are agreed upon. The court concluded that if an agreement is made and the essential terms of the agreement are recognizable, then the parties have a binding agreement regardless of whether or not the parties sign a piece of paper.
“Where the parties agree upon the essential terms of a settlement so that the mechanics can be fleshed out in a writing to be thereafter executed, the settlement will be enforced, notwithstanding the fact that the writing does not materialize because a party later reneges.” Lahue v. Pio Costa, 263 N.J. Super. 575, 596 (citing Bistricer v. Bistricer, 231 N.J. Super. 143).
Unless the oral agreement is seen as oppressive or unjust, it is an enforceable contract.
Agreements Between Divorcing Parties Should be in Writing
It’s highly recommended that you take the time to put the mediation or arbitration agreement(s) in writing even if each party are in agreement on all of the major points. In certain situations, it may be beneficial to put the significant points on the court record before leaving the courthouse in order to prevent the chance for a disaster.
If you and your attorney have prepared a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that is readily available, revising it electronically or by hand may be a good idea. Also worth keeping in mind, the party attempting to renege on the agreement may be liable for the other party’s attorney’s fees.
Essential, of course, is obtaining experienced legal representation who can not only negotiate a fair agreement in your best interests, but who can also fight and win a Harrington motion hearing should it prove necessary.
Contact Our Morristown Mediation and Arbitration Attorneys Today
At Jacobs Berger, LLC our attorneys have extensive experience acting as legal representation during the mediation and arbitration process for clients across Madison, Randolph, Hanover, Florham Park, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area.
Our firm focuses on providing legal guidance and service for your future, while simultaneously not compromising the relationships and financial security you have already worked so hard to achieve. We strive to work in a manner which protects your individual interests, but also does not upset the stability of your children, or your family.
We are ready to put our unique and effective approach to work for you today, either through negotiation during your divorce, as neutral divorce mediators, or as legal representatives to you during the arbitration process.
To schedule a strategic planning session with our firm today regarding your divorce, your options for alternative dispute resolution, or to learn more about how we can help you, please contact us online, or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 710-4366.