It is quite possible that the only time you’ve ever stepped foot in a courthouse is for jury duty.  During the course of your divorce, however, you may have to appear in court several times before the hearing at which your divorce is finalized.    The below serves as a short primer on what you can expect during these appearances.

Case Management Conference:

This is a court conference scheduled soon after the parties have filed their divorce pleadings.  In many (although not all) cases, this will be the first time you and/or your attorneys are in court.  It is an initial conference in which the judge learns the status of the case, is informed of the issues expected to be implicated in the divorce (for example, whether custody is disputed), and sets a timeline for the exchange of information between the parties (also known as discovery).  Discovery may involve the provision of financial documents, the taking of depositions, and appraisals.  This information is memorialized in what as known as a Case Management Order.

Each county in New Jersey handles Case Management Conferences differently.  In some counties, only the attorneys participate in the conference, while in others, both the attorneys and the parties are present.  Sometimes, if the parties and attorneys are able to agree on the issues and discovery deadlines in advance, the Case Management Order can be submitted for the judge’s signature without anyone having to appear for the conference.

Early Settlement Panel:

The Early Settlement Panel (ESP) is a Court-mandated opportunity for the parties to try and resolve the economic issues in their divorce case, which may include child support, alimony, and equitable distribution.  At an ESP, your attorneys will present the facts of your case, and your written proposal for settlement, to one or two volunteer panelists.  These volunteers are experienced matrimonial attorneys who are well-versed in the different questions that frequently arise in divorces.

Once the panelists have heard from everyone, they will make their own recommendation for settlement.  This recommendation, which is non-binding, is based on the panelists’ significant experience.  It is, and should be looked at as, a helpful settlement tool, since it represents a completely unbiased opinion from a third party (or parties).  You are not required to accept the recommendation, but it often starts as a good “jumping off point” for settlement and can help parties to move in the right direction.  For that reason, we encourage our clients to take ESPs very seriously.

Economic Mediation:

If your case does not settle at the ESP, you will proceed to Economic Mediation.  This is a mandatory process in which the parties and their attorneys have the opportunity to sit down with a trained mediator to try and resolve your case.  Two hours of mediation will be provided free of charge; this time may include the mediator’s preparation time.  Although the process may feel similar to ESP, you are often afforded more time during Economic Mediation to try and settle your case than you would receive during the ESP.  If you are pleased with the progress you are making during the free Economic Mediation session, you and your spouse may choose to retain the mediator at his or her regular rate in order to continue negotiations.  Like the Early Settlement Panel, Economic Mediation is an excellent opportunity to have an experienced professional assist you in finalizing all of the financial issues incident to your divorce.

Here at Paras, Apy & Reiss, P.C., all of our lawyers have had many years of courtroom experience, can deftly guide you through these court appearances, and are here to assist in any capacity necessary.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, you should consult your attorney.

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