New Jersey courts have established an Early Settlement Program for married couples who want to avoid a divorce trial. The ESP involves mediation before a panel of volunteer family law attorneys who strive to help the pair reach a fair settlement.

Before filing for divorce, learn more about the New Jersey ESP mediation alternative.

What is the process of ESP panel mediation?

You can request panel mediation when you file for divorce or when you respond to your spouse’s divorce filing. The judge can also refer a couple to mandatory ESP mediation after reviewing their initial submissions. Upon referral, you and your spouse must submit case information documents and supporting evidence. Each side must prepare a memo for the panel that details their preferred arrangement for the division of marital assets including the family home, debt division, spousal support, child support, child custody and other pertinent issues.

In addition to these documents, each side will have a chance to speak before the panel. After listening to case presentations, the panel will discuss the case and recommend a settlement based on the circumstances of your case and the arrangement that seems most fair to both parties.

Do you have to accept the panel recommendation?

The ESP panel decision is not legally binding, so you and your spouse can choose whether to accept or reject their recommendation. If you choose to go to trial, the judge will not have access to the panel recommendations. If both parties agree with the ESP panel decision, you must testify your agreement with the proposed settlement under oath. This will become your legally binding divorce agreement, and the judge will finalize your case on the same day.

Opting for mediation in a New Jersey divorce can save couples time and money compared to litigation. The attorneys on the panel will provide objective opinions that reflect how the judge would likely rule if your case were to go to trial. In addition, your attorney can advocate on your behalf at the panel hearing.