What is the Early Settlement Program?
The Early Settlement Program (ESP) was started in New Jersey with the intent on decreasing the long delays in New Jersey’s family courts. The ESP panelists are matrimonial attorneys chosen by the Family Law Committee to volunteer their time to help divorcing couples reach a fair settlement without the need for court. The panelists will hear a case privately with both parties and their attorneys present. Although there are some similarities with a court hearing, it is not a formal trial. There is no testimony taken, and no record is documented about anything that is said. The attorneys take turns presenting the facts of the case to the panel in an informal manner.
The Types of Issues Considered by the Panelists
The Early Settlement Panel will go over issues related to your divorce, mostly of the financial kind. For example, they will consider alimony, property distribution, child support, and attorney’s fees. The panel may consider other issues, but they are not allowed to discuss child custody. In analyzing these issues for the parties, the panel will use financial information, such as the case information statements, tax returns, appraisals and pay stubs provided by each party. Current New Jersey divorce laws will be applied to this information in coming up with a settlement recommendation.
The Panel’s Recommendations
The Early Settlement Panel will make a recommendation as to what they believe is a fair settlement of the issues that are present in your divorce situation. Because this determination is just a recommendation, the parties are not required to accept it. However, the panel’s recommendations should be considered by each party and discussed with his or her divorce attorney.
Why Should I Settle at the Time of My ESP?
As mentioned above, the main purpose of the Early Settlement Panel is to speed up the divorce process and avoid too much involvement from the courts. If you and your spouse settle at the conclusion of the review by the ESP, the family court judge will learn of your settlement and you can be granted a divorce soon thereafter. Arriving at a settlement agreement saves the divorcing parties time, money and additional legal fees.
If you choose not to settle based on the recommendations of the ESP, your case will have to come before the judge in court on a future date. You are more likely to find that you will be happier with an agreement negotiated between you and your spouse, as opposed to a decision made by a judge. Most New Jersey divorces are settled between the parties before requiring intervention by the courts.
Contact a Team of Experienced NJ Divorce Lawyers
If you have any questions about the Early Settlement Panel process used in New Jersey, you should contact an experienced divorce lawyer. The team of divorce attorneys at Villani & DeLuca provide free consultations for all matrimonial matters, including divorce. Call (732) 965-3350 today to set one up.