The property division process in a New Jersey divorce can quickly get confusing and complicated, especially if this is your first divorce. There are various steps you will need to go through, with the overall goal of dividing your property in an equitable, or fair, manner.
Before your property is divided, you must go through the discovery process. This involves gathering information from your spouse regarding their assets and their value.
Discovery may involve answering written questions about assets, taking depositions and submitting a case information statement. This is a document that lists everything about your financial situation, including your assets, debts, monthly expenses and current and past income.
Once this step is complete, your case goes before a matrimonial early settlement panel (sometimes called an ESP). This is a required step in the divorce process.
Preparing for your ESP date
You will receive notice with a date and time for your ESP date. You and your spouse will both submit written divorce settlement proposals before the ESP date so you can see what each other is seeking in the divorce and if there are any topics on which you agree.
The proposals cover all aspects of your divorce except custody and parenting time. Your proposal should include your position in issues including property division, alimony, child support and other divorce related costs, such as attorney fees.
Once you review each other’s settlement proposals, you will know what areas you agree on and what issues must still be resolved.
What happens on your ESP date
Several divorce cases are usually scheduled for the same ESP date, so when you arrive on your scheduled day and time, your case will likely not be the only one being heard.
The ESP date begins with a meeting with a family court judge who explains what the ESP hearing is and its purpose. You and your spouse will then meet with a panel of volunteer attorneys.
The volunteer attorneys review both settlement proposals and provide you and your spouse with advice and guidance about how a judge would rule on the issues if you went to trial.
If you have an attorney, your attorney will have a chance to argue your case to the panel with respect to any unresolved issues. Once this is complete, the panel discusses your case amongst themselves in private.
When the panel is finished with their discussion, everyone meets together again and the panel presents you with their recommendations for resolution. You are given an opportunity to ask questions about their recommendation but are not required to accept it.
Why should I accept the recommendation?
Although you may not want to accept the panel’s recommendation, typically the recommendation is consistent with what a judge would order at trial. It is often in your best interest to accept the panel’s recommendation, so you should take the early settlement process seriously and listen carefully to the recommendation and the reasons behind it.
If you and your spouse agree with the ESP recommendation, you can settle your divorce case that day. There are many benefits to this, mainly that your divorce will be completed immediately, saving you time and money and allowing you to move forward with your life.
Not all cases resolve at the ESP date, particularly cases with more complex issues that require the use of experts. However, the ESP process can still give you a good idea of where you and your spouse stand on all divorce issues.