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What Is the Matrimonial Early Settlement Program?

Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order suspending various in-person court proceedings, including those under the Matrimonial Early Settlement Program (ESP). However, the gears of justice have not ground to a halt as a result. This blog explains Matrimonial ESP proceedings regarding New Jersey divorce cases.

The Matrimonial Early Settlement Program

Many divorce cases in New Jersey are privately settled between the parties through what is known as the Matrimonial Early Settlement Program. The goal of this program is to minimize the time and cost of litigating divorce issues through mediation.

Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution where a divorcing couple resolves matters like property division, alimony, and child custody without court intervention. In mediation proceedings, a neutral third-party—known as the mediator—guides the parties in negotiations toward a private settlement of their legal issues.

ESP Panels

Divorce cases that are subject to ESP are supervised by a panel of experienced family law attorneys. These attorneys volunteer their services with the goal of assisting the parties to reach a just settlement. The ESP panel reviews the arguments and evidence of a divorce, including case information statements, ESP memos, and supporting documents.

An ESP memo outlines a party’s position concerning issues such as:

  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • The equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities

At the conclusion of proceedings, the ESP panel evaluates the case and prepares a recommendation of settlement. This recommendation is based on the panelists’ review of legal issues, interpretation of pertinent laws, and the equitable factors unique to each case.

Mandatory ESP Proceedings

New Jersey Rules of Court, Rule 5:5-5 governs mandatory ESP proceedings and requires judges to refer divorce cases to such proceedings after reviewing the pleadings and case information statements of the parties in a divorce case. Under Rule 5:5-5, “failure of a party to participate in the program or to provide a case information statement or such other required information may result in the assessment of counsel fees and/or dismissal of the non-cooperating party’s pleadings. Not later than five days prior to the scheduled panel session, each party shall be required to provide a submission to the ESP coordinator in the county of venue, with a copy of the designated panelists, if known.

Relaxation of Rule 5:5-5

In conjunction with the public health precautions issued by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the requirements and deadlines under Rule 5:5-5 have been relaxed. Given the restrictions on public gatherings in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the usual timeframes and deadlines for ESP proceedings have been “relaxed and supplemented.” Additionally, ESP proceedings may be conducted remotely using specific communication methods, so that divorce settlements can continue as best as possible.

For Quality Legal Advice, Contact Lane & Lane, LLC

Do you have questions or concerns about your legal rights and options in a family law dispute? If so, it is in your best interest to consult a Somerville NJ lawyer from Lane & Lane, LLC with experience in New Jersey family law. We believe that the gears of justice should not grind to a halt despite the recent Coronavirus pandemic. That is why we offer phone consultations and other methods of remotely exploring the legal issues of your case.

To schedule a consultation, please call us Lane & Lane, LLC at (908) 259-6673 or contact us online today.