Friday, January 6, 2017

New Jersey Divorce: The Early Settlement Panel

By: Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq.
In an effort to avoid the time, expense, energy, and risks of contested litigation, parties to a divorce in New Jersey are often required to participate in the Early Settlement Panel, or “ESP” as it is commonly referred. In a recent, unpublished decision of the Ocean County Superior Court, the Honorable Lawrence R. Jones, J.S.C., addressed the significance of the Early Settlement Panel. In Swift v. Swift, Judge Jones explicated Rule 5:5-5 of the New Jersey Rules of Court as well as the significance of the divorcing parties’ participation in the program.

As succinctly explained by Judge Jones, generally, the Family Part of each Superior Court sets aside at least one day per month as an “ESP day,” whereby a panel of volunteer panelists – ordinarily, experienced divorce attorneys – donate their time, energy, and knowledge to assist the divorcing parties in resolving the issues in dispute. At the ESP, the panelists are provided with each party’s Case Information Statement, an overview of the case, and the parties’ general positions as to the issues in dispute, and will make non-binding, confidential recommendations for a potential agreement. The proceedings of the Early Settlement Panel are confidential in nature – all discussions, negotiations, offers, counter-offers, and recommendations are treated as confidential and, if the case does not settle, no offer, counter-offer, statement, or recommendation may be presented to the Court as evidence against either party.

As stated by Judge Jones, in order for the ESP program to be successful, both parties must be willing to participate. Pursuant to the Rules of Court, parties to the divorce action, once referred to the Program, are required to participate in the Early Settlement Panel as scheduled. The failure of either party to participate in the Early Settlement Panel, to provide his or her Case Information Statement, or to provide “a submission” to the Early Settlement Panel coordinator in the county of venue, could result in sanctions against the non-cooperating party including the assessment of attorney fees and/or dismissal of that party’s pleadings.

If you have any questions in regards to divorce in New Jersey, the Early Settlement Panel, equitable distribution, or family law, you may wish to consult with an experienced family law attorney. This article is for information purposes only, and is neither legal advice nor the creation of an attorney client relationship.

Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq. / Timothy J. Little, P.C. / 2016 – All Rights Reserved

Timothy J. Little, P.C. is a full-service law firm with offices in Woodbridge and Chesterfield, New Jersey. Timothy J. Little, P.C. offers specialized legal assistance to individuals, families and businesses throughout New Jersey including Middlesex County (Old Bridge, Woodbridge, Sayreville, East Brunswick, Spotswood, Perth Amboy, Dunellen, Colonia, Sewaren, Iselin, Avenel, Fords, Keasbey, Menlo Park, Port Reading, South Amboy, Monroe, Edison, Carteret, Cranbury, Helmetta, South River, Milltown, Highland Park, Jamesburg, Laurence Harbor), Monmouth County, Union County, Ocean County, Somerset County, and Burlington County. If you have any questions or concerns regarding family law or divorce, please contact the attorneys at Timothy J. Little, P.C.

Family Law Practice Specialties:
Divorce, equitable distribution of assets and liabilities, alimony, domestic violence, child custody, child support, parenting time, emancipation applications, removal applications, Marital Settlement Agreements, post-judgment enforcement and modification applications

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