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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Nicholas Scutari to permit an alternative process for conflict resolution in divorce cases, which would allow the divorcing parties to hire legal counsel trained in collaborative practices to resolve their case in an amicable and cost-effective manner, was approved today by the Senate. It now heads to the desk of the governor.

 “Divorce and the process of separating a life built together is already difficult enough. The legal procedures should not create more hardship to families working to reshape their lives,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “This will provide couples who have decided to part ways with a cost-effective option for dissolving the marriage that promotes problem solving and a more neutral environment for themselves and their children.”

The ‘NJ Family Collaborative Law Act’ (S-1224) would authorize the use of a collaborative law process as an alternative to the judicial resolution of family law disputes. This is a voluntary non-adversarial process in which clients and their lawyers agree that the lawyers will represent the clients solely for purposes of settlement, and that the clients will hire new counsel if the case does not settle. Like mediation, it promotes problem-solving and permits solutions not possible in litigation or arbitration.

“Couples who are seeking to dissolve their marriage amicably should have a mechanism for doing so that does not require unnecessary time spent in court,” said Senator Scutari, (D-Union) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Having legal counsel that represents both parties’ interests will allow couples to more efficiently resolve disputes. This will better ensure a non-adversarial process for divorcing couples, while also saving them time and money.”

The bill is modeled after recommendations issued in a July 2013 report of the New Jersey Law Revision Commission (“NJLRC”) on the New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act. A number of states have made this option available, including Utah, Nevada, Texas, Hawaii, Ohio, Alabama, and WashingtonState, as well as the District of Columbia, and six other states have legislation pending to establish this alternative. In Florida, local judges have been working with collaborative professionals to create local rules and administrative orders endorsing and regulating collaborative law.

The Assembly approved the bill on Monday by a vote of 78-0. The Senate approved it 40-0.