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Court Assigned Mediation and Interpreters

The NJ Administrative Office of the Courts court recently clarified the policy on whether the court must provide a spoken language interpreter for events which happen outside of the courthouse.  Court assigned mediation, outside of foreclosure mediation, is typically done at the mediator’s or an attorney’s office.  The clarification to directive 3-04 states that any mediator who requires an interpreter in any court assigned mediation should hold the mediation at the courthouse.  The court will then provide an interpreter at the court’s cost.  This directive does not apply to interpreters for the deaf as that gets into ADA issues.

Britain Holds its First Divorce Fair

First there are wedding fairs, now ones for divorce.  According to AP News:

Breaking up is hard to do. But lawyers, counselors, astrologists and lifestyle coaches at Britain’s first divorce fair this weekend will aim to make the process easier.

The fair — cheerily named the “Starting Over Show” — takes place Sunday at a cozy hotel in the seaside resort town of Brighton.

Organizer Suzy Miller said the event would aim to focus on the positive, starting with a warming cup of tea and a chunk of homemade cake. Musicians will play live and there will be play areas for kids.

Though Britain has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe, Miller said the Brighton event would be unlike the continent’s first divorce fair in Austria two years ago, which featured private investigators and companies offering paternity tests.

Instead, psychics would offer to heal people’s minds and bodies, and one company suggests boosting finances by selling a healthy version of chocolate, she said. Many of the 30 or so exhibitors, who have paid up to 1,600 pounds ($2,245) for a stall, plan to focus on having fun.

“Sometimes people just need someone to talk to,” said exhibitor Martina Mercer-Hall, who uses astrology and alternative therapies to advise on designing one’s home after divorce.

One exhibitor promises to organize the footwear equivalent of Tupperware parties, selling stilettos instead of food storage tubs. Another plans art appreciation vacations. On a more pragmatic note, the fair offers debt counselors and mediators to help couples navigate divorce without lawyers.

In Britain, 2.6 people of every thousand are divorced, compared with a European average of 1.8, according to EU statistics gathered in 2001. A 2002 report from the Center for Policy Studies think-tank says Britain offers few tax or welfare advantages to being married, and suggests younger people do not view a marriage commitment as seriously.

Divorce lawyers say business is booming, as the country’s recession puts pressure on marriages.

Divorce is a painful experience.  I can’t see how some of these things (bringing your kids?) to this convention will be productive.  At least they will be having mediators.

Virginia-Vermont Civil Union Custody Dispute Back on Appeal

I have prevously reported on a case of a Vermont civil union which was dissolved, but a custody battle over a child of that civil union had taken place in two states, Vermont and Virginia, where one of the partners had moved with the child. Virginia does not recognize same sex relationships.  Federal law does not either (in the defense of marriage act), but does uphold the custody decisions of an originating state, to prevent venue shopping by parents.

In this case, courts in both Vermont and Virginia (including their Supreme Court) have upheld the right of the Vermont courts to take precedence.  The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal, essentially agreeing with the existing court decisions.  Now the Virginia resident, Lisa Miller, is appealing the ability of Virginia courts to enforce the order of a court in Vermont.

In January, a Vermont judge denied Miller’s latest attempt in that state to deny visitation rights to Janet Jenkins.  The judge also said Miller risked losing custody of her daughter if she continues to violate court orders. The Vermont court also rejected Jenkins’ effort to get primary custody of Isabella, but did order she get five weeks of custody in the summer.

Click here for more details.

$54 Million Pants Lawsuit Just About Over

Former Judge Roy Pearson has lost his bid to have his appeal heard by the entire bank (“en banc”) panel of appelate judges.  All 6 of the other judges on the panel refused to hear the case which the other 3 judges unanimously denied.  Pearson’s only recourse is to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Mediate your dispute with your neighbor and be on TV

Mediation is generally considered private and confidential (unlike litigation which is public), one of the main advantages as well as one reason why mediation is not more widely well known.  HGTV is creating a new TV show to mediate dispute between neighbors and they have issued a casting call:

Feuding with your neighbor with no resolution in sight?!? We all know how very uncomfortable that can be and HGTV would like to offer you a possible solution – MEDIATION!!!

I’m guessing this is the People’s Court but for mediation?  (Incidentally, the People’s Court, Judge Judy and the like get their cases from NYC Small Claims court cases who volunteer to have their case arbitrated by the program.  NYC small claims cases were always the most fun to mediate for me.)  So, if you want your 15 minutes of fame (literally) and want the dispute with your neighbor resolved, sign up.

In NJ and your home is under foreclosure? Use free Mediation to help.

In January 2009, the New Jersey state government and courts implemented a foreclosure mediation program to help both homeowners and banks resolve outstanding balances on home mortgages.  A homeowner can ask the court to be entered into the voluntary mediation program at any time during the foreclosure process.  At that point, the foreclosure case will be stayed pending the mediation.  The home owner will be required to meet with a HUD-approved counselor, essentially to determine what the homeowner can afford in regards to a potentially modified mortgage loan.  After that happens, the court will schedule a date for a mediation between the homeowner and the bank.  The mediations are held at the courthouse.  Both the counselor and mediator are compensated by a fund established by the state of NJ.

In essence, as I’ve explained before, the bank does not want your home.  In most cases, the balance of the loan is more than the value of the house and the bank does not want to own a home in a bad real estate market.  While holding the home, they have to pay property taxes, etc.  They would rather settle — if it makes economic sense — than foreclose.  Loans can be modified in a number of ways (change of the balance due/prinicpal amount, payment schedule, interest rate, type of loan, etc.), all of which the counselor can assist the homeowner with.  The counselor is also required to be at the mediator to help the homeowner during negotiations.  The state and federal government as well as the FDIC, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae all have programs to help homeowners.

Please keep in mind that this is not a panacea.  Some mortgage loans have been resold and repackaged making modifications difficult or impossible.  Some homeowners, even after the numbers are run, simply cannot afford the home they are living in.  In the latter case, the mortgage company may pay you to leave the home without an expensive legal battle to have you evicted.

The NJ courts have published a foreclosure resource guide (opens in new window) to help homeowners navigate a complex system.  As I’ve stated before, the worst action you can take is to ignore all of the notices you get in the mail — doing nothing will surely lead to the loss of your home.  Also, be cautious of people or companies who want to help by transferring title on your home for any purpose.  Those are likely scam artists.