What is an Early Settlement Panel in a New Jersey Divorce?
After the discovery stage in a New Jersey divorce, the parties and their NJ divorce attorneys are set to go for an alternative dispute resolution program or an New Jersey Early Settlement Panel (ESP) before the court as provided for in NJ Rule 5:5-5. This mandatory court appearance is aimed at reaching a written settlement of the issues raised at hand between the spouses if possible, which include among others alimony, child support, division of assets and liabilities as well as counsel fees with the exception of parenting or visitation time and custody issues in order to end the litigation thereby saving you from litigation costs and cutting short emotional burdens associated with divorce cases.
Two to three volunteer NJ divorce attorneys, who have a minimum of five years of experience in family law, comprise the ESP panel depending on how heavy the calendar is. They receive no compensation at all for their service. During the ESP hearing, the panelists will hear both sides of the case by reviewing the ESP memo (outlining the position on the issues raised on alimony, child support, and division of marital assets and liabilities among others) which both parties’ New Jersey divorce attorneys have prepared along with other supporting documents. Not only will the panelists listen to your respective lawyers but talk with you and your spouse too. From there, the ESP will make a fair and equitable recommendation for the settlement of your case. This recommendation is based on applicable laws, equity and fairness, and what is likely the decision will be rendered by the judge after a costly and lengthy trial.
The parties can then ask questions from the panel. The panel’s recommendation as the term suggests, is not binding upon the parties. It is up to you whether to reject or accept the same. You may accept only some of the terms contained in the recommendation. In like manner, the trial judge will neither be influenced nor informed with what recommendations the ESP has come up with. If you and your spouse agree with each other to accept the recommendation and the terms as discussed by the parties together with the ESP, such agreement or settlement reached shall then be reduced into writing under oath and placed on record before a judge. The judgment of divorce is entered usually on the same day and that means that you and your spouse will be divorced on that ESP hearing day. So you get the divorce decree you want and you can move on with your respective lives. On the other hand, in case of rejection, you still need to inform the judge assigned that you have not settled your case. As a result, you will be required to attend mandatory economic mediation on a future date before your case is scheduled for trial.
To reiterate, the purpose of the ESP is to save both parties in a divorce case from going through the tedious trial, save you from emotional burdens, mental anguish, much effort and time as well as huge costs.
If you wish to be clarified with matters relating to divorce and the Early Settlement Panel, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation with an experienced NJ divorce attorney at (201) 845- 7400. We would be very happy to assist you.