Early settlement is an alternative dispute resolution program for married couples going through a divorce. The goal of the program is to allow the parties to reach a settlement on the issues in dispute early on in the divorce process to avoid the lengthy and expensive litigation process. As is the case with many legal issues, divorce is a much easier process if the parties can at least try to compromise and resolve their issues without going to court.
WHO ARE THE PANELISTS?
The early settlement panel (ESP) is comprised of experienced matrimonial attorneys. Each attorney must have at least 5 years experience in matrimonial law. The panel is usually made up of two to three panelists.
WHAT ISSUES DOES THE ESP ADDRESS?
Matrimonial issues related to finances and property are addressed by the early settlement program. More sensitive issues such as child custody and visitation require a more in depth process and thus are not decided on in the early settlement process.
HOW DOES THE EARLY SETTLEMENT PROCESS BEGIN?
Prior to the settlement hearing date, each party’s attorney will prepare a memorandum to be sent to the ESP. This memo outlines each party’s position on how it would like to settle the case. The issues covered in the memo include equitable distribution of assets (division of marital property), alimony, child support, and other financial and property-related issues. The memo is usually accompanied by supporting documents that backup the information summarized in the memo.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE SETTLEMENT HEARING
The panelists will typically review the memos and supporting documents before the hearing begins. The parties attend the hearing along with their respective attorneys. The panelists will often ask the attorneys questions to ensure that the understand all of the facts necessary in the case. The panelists will also ask the parties themselves questions. After this part of the process is finished, the panelists will excuse the parties and their attorneys and the panelists will confer to come up with a recommendation.
ACCEPTING, REJECTING, OR MODIFYING THE RECOMMENDATION
The recommendation the panel makes will be based on any applicable laws, fairness, and what the panelists believe to be a likely decision made by a judge should the case go to trial. The parties are under no obligation the accept the settlement recommendation, however it is important to understand what the recommendation says and why the panelists came up with it, as it can be instructive as to how a judge may view your case. In determining whether to accept to reject the recommendation keep in mind than some minor issues may not be worth the cost (financial, emotional and time) to continue litigating. If you are willing to accept some but not all of the recommendations and the other party agrees, you may modify parts of the recommendation to best reflect that.
If you do not accept it, the recommendation is not presented to the judge in your case, but the judge will be informed that you were unable to settle the case. You will then be sent to a mandatory mediation before your case is sent to trial to once again try to resolve the financial issues in your case.
If you accept the recommendation of the panel, the recommendation is put into writing and put on the record before a judge. The good news is that if you accept the recommendation of the panel a judge will typically enter the judgment of divorce on that same day, which is usually a huge relief for each party.
If you are going through a divorce in New Jersey, call the Law Office of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 today for a free initial consultation.