Early Settlement Panel
New Jersey families going through divorce may rightfully be concerned about what arrangements a judge will make about their future. Most cases end in settlement before the court has to make a decision. Before the court issues a judgment, it encourages spouses to try to work out a settlement agreement beforehand and mandates that they appear before an Early Settlement Panel (the ‘ESP”). An experienced family law lawyer can help Monmouth County residents understand what to expect during arbitration, mediation or the settlement panel, and how a court is likely to see your case if you and your spouse decide not to settle. Contact Goldstein Law Group to discuss the details of your situation. All the partners of our firm have been selected to serve as Early Settlement Panelists and/or Intensive Settlement Panelists in Monmouth and/or Middlesex Counties. In order to do so, they have to be recognized as skilled family law attorneys that devote a significant part of their practice to family law matters.The Role of the Early Settlement Panel
The goal of the Early Settlement Panel ("ESP") in New Jersey is to help spouses reach an equitable and efficient (early) settlement. Trial and appeal are expensive procedures that can create an emotional burden on one or both spouses and their children. The ESP (in most counties) is made up of two attorneys whom the court appoints to mediate a divorce case. It can only consider financial issues. That means it hears evidence and arguments related to spousal support, child support, property division, and attorneys' fees. However, it will not hear issues related to child custody or visitation. Other mediation programs provided thru the court system can and do address the non-financial issues.
The process for ESP is straightforward. After your case has been in the system for a sufficient time that the majority, if not all, discovery has been obtained sufficient to allow the parties and their counsel to make informed decisions and to entertain meaningful settlement negotiations, you and your lawyer will appear before the Panel on a date set by the court (you and between upwards of three to 15 or so other similarly situated cases, that is!). Your lawyer and your spouse's lawyer will present a written position paper and supporting summary evidence as to the facts alleged and in support of the position for settlement you advance. The panelists hear the facts and evidence of the case and listen to the attorneys' arguments and advocacy. They will take notes and may ask questions. Afterwards, they will excuse the parties and their counsel from the room, they will then deliberate on the case and render their collective opinions and recommendations as to how they strongly recommend the two litigants should settle their case, as to the issues presented to the panelists. The goal of the ESP is for the panelists to recommend a fair divorce settlement. Thus, if you and your spouse both agree to the settlement recommended by the ESP panelists, you can end your divorce then. However, if either of you does not agree, the case goes back to the judicial system and is scheduled for further timely and costly continuing litigation, the very next of which is a subsequent layer of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) known as “mandatory economic mediation.” It is similar in nature to the ESP, however, it is conducted by a single mediator that will take place at his or her office, within 45 days after a failed ESP. The economic mediator is selected by the litigants’ attorneys from a list of qualified mediators. The economic mediator will provide two hours of his or her time at no cost to the litigants, as a service to the bench, the bar, and the litigants. Thereafter, for any time spent beyond the first two free hours, the mediator is to be paid his or her hourly rate (which varies), which is to be allocated by the court in some ratio between the two spouses. If that second layer of mediation still fails to achieve a settlement between the two parties, the court will meet with counsel, with the litigants present at court at a pre-trial conference when a firm trial date is give, in most cases, on the next available trial date. Usually this is several months into the future. There is much incentive to settle one’s case, given the time and expense involved (including the emotional “expense” that a protracted divorce case can have on a litigant and the parties children).
The ESP program is intended to help litigants resolve their family law case fairly and equitably to avoid the need for trial, which can be expensive. The attorneys appointed to the panel are well-respected members of the family law community who are considered proficient in all aspects of matrimonial law and volunteer to mediate the case. At Goldstein Law Group, three of our attorneys currently serve as Early Settlement Panelists and serve the court on a regular basis.
We estimate that 90-95% of all New Jersey divorce cases can be resolved by settlement. As panelists ourselves, we believe that the ESP process and the mandatory economic mediation can result in a sound settlement for some families. However, if you and your spouse cannot agree on the recommended settlement, we will be aggressive advocates for your interests.Discuss Your Divorce with a Middlesex County Lawyer
At Goldstein Law Group, we believe that our work on the ESP is a testament to our skill, integrity, and excellent reputation in the community. If you need a dedicated family law attorney to guide you through a dispute with your spouse, parents, or children in Middlesex County and beyond, contact us at 732-967-6777 or via our online form. We have represented individuals in communities such as East Brunswick, Manalapan, and Freehold.