Early Settlement Panel in a New Jersey Divorce Case
Early Settlement Panel or ESP as it is often called is your first chance to settle your divorce case in New Jersey through a court-sponsored program. However, it is hardly early as it often takes place in the second half of your divorce case. You and your lawyer will meet with one or two other lawyers who are volunteering their time to help settle cases. Most of these lawyers exclusively practice family law in that area. However, that doesn’t mean their advice is always sound. It is a rather quick and informal process and its usefulness varies. The recommendation made by the ESP panel is just that, a recommendation. It is (or should be) confidential so it will not impact the judge’s opinion on your case. If the case doesn’t settle at or soon after the ESP date, the case will be scheduled for economic mediation or a trial date, again, depending on the county.
Some panelists come up with great recommendations while others are completely off the wall. You cannot get discouraged by a bad recommendation from the ESP panel. I’ve seen horrible recommendations that were cut in half at a subsequent mediation or settlement conference. If the recommendation is bad, it should at least give your lawyer an idea as to the holes in the case that need to be patched moving forward.
To get a better recommendation, your lawyer needs to draft a detailed ESP statement. While ESP statements are required, most are only one or two pages long. The purpose is to give the the panelists an overview of what the contested issues are and what your position is on those issues. When our divorce lawyers submit an ESP statement, it looks like a phone book. We detail all of the issues, our position as well as the facts and the law that support same. What makes our statements so lengthy is that we make sure to back up all of our facts with evidence. This helps to eliminate factual disputes which can grind an ESP or any settlement discussion to a halt. After all, if you can’t even agree on the facts, how can you ever settle an issue?