Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel: An Alternative to Avoid a New Jersey Trial
The New Jersey Divorce Early Settlement Program (ESP) is a program available to help couples avoid a trial and negotiate the terms of their divorce through mediation instead. The purpose of these negotiations is to save money and avoid some of the emotional strain experienced in a trial, while helping the parties to reach a fair and amicable settlement.
To discuss the specifics of your divorce case and the applicability of ESP in New Jersey, please contact the family law attorneys at The Montanari Law Group. Our knowledgeable team of lawyers is available to assist you with understanding the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel process in Passaic County and elsewhere in Northern New Jersey, including in South Orange, Hackensack, Totowa, Bergen County, Montvale, Woodland Park, and Montclair. Call our Little Falls Office to speak with a family and divorce lawyer about the benefits of the Early Settlement Panel and what it may offer you as an alternative to trial. We invite you to call today at 973-233-4396 or complete our online contact form for a free, entirely confidential consultation.
ESP Participation Required by the NJ Court in NJ
Couples are referred to ESP by the judge who reviews their pleadings and information submitted by the parties. If a judge refers the case for ESP, the parties are required to participate. Individuals who fail or refuse to participate may have their pleadings dismissed by the court or be ordered to pay their spouse’s attorney fees.
After a case is referred to ESP, each party must provide their ESP memo and supporting documents to the ESP coordinator assigned to the vicinage where their case is pending. The program is composed of a panel of lawyers who are experienced in family law. These experts review the information provided by each spouse and make a recommendation for settlement to the parties.
Where Does ESP Fit into the Divorce Process?
Cases are referred to ESP after the discovery phase of a divorce proceedings. Specifically, this occurs after one spouse has filed for divorce and both spouses have submitted their pleadings and case information after the discovery phase, but before the next phase of litigation. This discovery phase is very important whether the parties are about to resolve the terms of their divorce through negotiation or if they proceed to trial. During discovery, the parties are able to collect relevant information from their spouse about finances, assets, income, expenses, and other relevant information.
Before the ESP date when the ESP panel reviews the parties’ case, the parties will prepare settlement proposals that explain the party’s position on how much they should give, get, or retain in terms of marital assets, alimony, child support, and other related finances. The objective of ESP is to avoid litigation and make the divorce process more amicable and cost-effective for the parties and preserve court resources.
Key Topics That ESP Concentrates On
The negotiations potentially leading to a matrimonial settlement agreement in ESP only deal with the division of property, child support, and other financial matters, not child custody or visitation.
Some of the key topics that ESP focuses on include, but are not limited to:
- Apportionment of debts
- Equitable distribution of the assets including the marital home
- Child support
- Counsel fees
Getting to a Final Recommendation from the Panel in Passaic County NJ
Each party provides the panel with their ESP memo containing their case information statement, along with supporting documents. After hearing from both spouses, the panel will discuss the case and present the couple with a settlement recommendation. The recommendation of the panel is based on their opinion regarding an outcome that is fair and equitable to each spouse under the panelists’ interpretation of the law and how they believe the judge is likely to rule in the case, based on their professional experience.
Once the Panel Provides Its Recommendation, Is it Binding?
Neither spouse is required to accept the ESP panel’s recommendation regarding a settlement agreement. The recommendation is not legally binding. The parties may still present an agreement to the court containing different terms than the panel’s recommendation if the parties agree.
Matrimonial Settlement Agreement, the Step Before a Final Decree
If ESP works and the parties accept the panel’s recommendation, the matrimonial settlement agreement will be presented to the judge and each party will testify that they understand its terms and agree to it. After addressing the cause of action, the divorce will then be issued. The parties will receive a divorce decree containing the terms of their divorce as agreed upon.
Possible Options if the Parties Cannot Reach an Agreement in ESP
If the parties do not accept the recommendation of the ESP panel and cannot reach an agreement on their own, then the case will proceed to trial. Failing to accept the panel’s recommendation will not prejudice either party and the judge will not know what the panel’s recommendation was.
Contact our Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel Lawyers to Review Your Case
If you are currently going through a divorce in New Jersey or if you are thinking about filing for divorce, it is crucial to have an advocate by your side throughout the process, including ESP. While the purpose of ESP is an amicable resolution, the reality of a divorce is that there are often two competing sets of interests, at least in some areas. Having the assistance of a skilled and knowledgeable divorce lawyer to help prepare your ESP memo and settlement proposal is incredibly valuable. There is a tremendous amount of strategy that goes into achieving an individual’s desired outcome in a divorce and an experienced divorce lawyer has extensive insight into how the ESP panel analyses the information available to them and reaches their recommendation.
At Montanari Law Group in Little Falls, our top divorce lawyers go above and beyond to ensure that our clients feel supported, guided, educated, prepared, and confident before heading into the Early Settlement Panel phase of their divorce. Our team is in your corner from the moment you engage us for dedicated representation, handling all aspects of your divorce case and any related issues or needs that may arise as your life evolves in the future.
For more information about how we can help you to navigate ESP and the rest of the divorce process, contact 973-233-4396 or reach us online today for a free consultation or to schedule an appointment. Regardless of whether your matter arises in Teaneck, Prospect Park, Verona, Union City, Franklin Lakes, or other communities in Passaic County, Bergen County, or Essex County, count on our family law team to listen to your needs and position you for the best post-divorce life possible.