We are fortunate in New Jersey to have an Early Settlement Panel (ESP) program. When two divorcing parties can not agree on financial matters, a judge will typically send them to the program.
The goal is to help settle the financial issues such as alimony, child support, dividing of property or any other issues involving money. When alimony is a contentious issue in a New Jersey divorce, about 90% of those cases find their way to the ESP program. Issues such as child custody and/or parenting time are not entertained by the panel.
The panelists are experienced New Jersey divorce and family law attorneys in the county in which your divorce was filed. These volunteers have extensive knowledge of the law and volunteer 4 times a year to help settle cases.
I have been a panelist since 2000. Panelists review your information prior to your ESP date. On the date of the conference they meet with your attorneys to discuss specifics, and then make settlement recommendations to you. Their recommendations are non-binding, you don’t have to accept their suggestions.
If you do accept the recommendations of the Early Settlement Panel, and can formally agree to move forward with the divorce, the divorce can be finalized that very day. If the recommendations are not accepted by both parties, the judge will call a conference and could decide to send your divorce to further mediation or even to trial.
There is a magic of the ESP program – 50% of cases settle that day or at the very least significant progress can be made where there was division between the parties. This is because the panelists have no vested interest in the case. They hear the facts, but are not representing either party. Their recommendations are based on experience. I have found that it is the impartiality of the panelists that can sway a divorcing person to reasonableness.
Suppose your soon-to-be ex-spouse is being unreasonable in the division of your home. While it should be equally divided they don’t accept that from you, especially not your lawyer, and may even fight with his/her own attorney. But, during the ESP process, they hear that a equal division not only fair, but completely reasonable. For some reason, the opportunity to hear it from other lawyers brings people to see fairness. It is usually the fact that the panelists have no vested interest in your case and are an impartial third party who is not making any money off of the recommendations.
Each time I volunteer I find it very rewarding to help couples settle their differences based on my nearly 20 years of experience. Also, I find that being part of the settlement process stands true to my profession and the mission of the divorce process here in New Jersey, the court system wants you to settle avoiding a lengthy trial which can be financially and emotionally draining. The goal is to have you move on with your life in the quickest and fairest way possible.
As always, you should approach this type of legal matter with an experienced New Jersey Divorce attorney who can help you with the many intricate details of the process. You can save money working with an efficient legal team who can offer many solutions to your unique set of circumstances.