The New Jersey Early Settlement Program and Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus


The coronavirus pandemic has impacted almost all areas of our lives. For some, the impact on home life has forced them to reevaluate certain relationships. If you’re one of those people and you’ve determined that your marriage is broken past the point of repair, you may be concerned about your divorce options during this time of ongoing pandemic. The reality is that the courts and the rest of the legal system are operating, so you should wait no more to contact an experienced Hoboken family law attorney.

Going all the way back to the spring, family law attorneys around New Jersey began noticing an upswing in people calling about the possibility of filing for divorce, as a May 2020 report by reinforced. In some places, there are even billboards that tout legal services related to “COVIDivorce.”

Of course, getting a divorce in New Jersey in 2020 hasn’t always been easy – for a while, courts around the state were closed due to the lockdown. For those needing a divorce here, there is helpful news: the courts are open again… and have been for months. Virtual proceedings began in the spring and in-person hearings restarted in the summer.

Having addressed that, it is also worthwhile to touch on what one may expect in a divorce case in New Jersey. One tool that New Jersey has – and that can be very helpful for many divorcing couples – is the Early Settlement Program, or ESP. ESP is a mediation-based program that seeks to achieve a resolution to your divorce that is more efficient, less costly and, hopefully, less acrimonious than a fully litigated case.

An ESP hearing is a mandatory step in any New Jersey divorce. After you file a petition for divorce and your spouse files an answer (or vice versa,) the judge will review these documents and then refer you and your spouse to the ESP.

How the process works

The goal of the ESP – and of your mediation panel – is to foster cooperation between you and your spouse with the goal of reaching a settlement of your divorce issues. Before the hearing, you and your spouse will exchange settlement proposals. At your mediation with the panel, the panel will hear from both sides, including attorneys. Each side will lay out what their case will be if they go to trial. The panelists, who are volunteer family law attorneys, will express their opinion about how a judge would likely rule if the matter were litigated at trial.

The panel will also present a recommendation for a settlement of your issues. The panel’s recommendations are not binding, meaning that you are free to reject the recommendation. If, however, you and your spouse both accept the recommendation in its entirety, then those settlement terms simply are placed on the record before the judge and your divorce is finalized that same day.

The panel’s recommendation is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. You and your spouse are free to accept some of the panel’s recommendations while rejecting others. You are also free to reject an immediate acceptance of the panel’s recommendations, but to take that proposal and use it as the foundation of additional, more intense negotiations with your spouse.

Whether or not it yields a complete settlement of all divorce issues, the ESP process can be very helpful to you if used to its maximum benefit. Whether you’re talking about making a presentation to an ESP panel or differentiating a fair settlement proposal from an unfair one, doing it most effectively often requires a keen legal eye and years of experience. Rely on knowledgeable Hoboken family law attorney Frank Marciano for that kind of experience-based, skillful, diligent and effective representation. To set up a consultation and find out how you can put the power of this office to work for you, contact the office online or call 201.656.1000.

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