Due to the inordinate time, expense, and lack of judicial resources available for divorce cases, the New Jersey Courts have implemented settlement alternatives to court proceedings.
One of these is the Early Settlement Program (ESP) which helps parties in a divorce reach a settlement in advance of a distant court date. Represented by attorneys, the parties appear before two Panelists who are experienced matrimonial attorneys.
- Prior to the ESP date, each party’s attorney will deliver to the panelists his/her client’s written settlement position related to financial issues, along with a Case Information Statement.
- On the ESP date, the attorneys will meet with the Panelists in a conference room at the Courthouse, argue the positions, and answer any questions from the Panelists.
- The Panelists will then discuss the case amongst themselves, arrive at a recommendation for settlement, and share that recommendation with the attorneys and the parties.
The panel result is only a recommendation and does not have to be accepted. However, because it is the opinion of two experienced matrimonial attorneys in the applicable judicial precinct, the recommendation should be carefully considered—after many more months and expense the parties could see the same result in court. Even if the parties do not accept the full recommendation of the ESP panel, they should at least view it as the basis for further negotiation on the remaining outstanding issues.
If you are considering an ESP to settle your divorce case prior to trial, you should seek out experienced legal counsel familiar with the process. You have the right to be represented by an attorney in these proceedings and it is in your best interest to do so. The issues being addressed are sensitive and complex, and they require a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of family law in order to achieve a successful outcome.