From what we see on TV and read in the papers, divorce always seem like an ugly court battle, fought out for months, if not years. The truth is, most divorces are resolved without a court hearing through private methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce. In addition, the New Jersey superior courts offer several early intervention programs to help couples come to an agreement on issues such as custody, alimony and property division. One of the most commonly used interventions is the Matrimonial Early Settlement Program (MESP), in which highly experienced divorce attorneys volunteer to help spouses settle their financial issues without going to trial.
Couples are referred to this program after the filing of the divorce complaint. The process begins with the Case Management Conference, where the judge meets with the divorcing spouses and their attorneys. After determining the issues that need to be resolved, the judge will decide whether or not to refer your case to the MESP. If so, you will receive a court order with the time and date of your MESP conference, and the information that you will be required to submit ahead of time. This information, known as the Case Information Statement (CIS), will need to include specific details about your income, household expenses, debts and liabilities, and many other categories related to your finances. This can be overwhelming to put together on your own, so it's highly recommend that you work with an experienced divorce attorney.
On the day of your conference, you and your lawyer will meet with a panel of volunteer attorneys, who will make recommendations for how you and your spouse should resolve your finances. However, you are not obligated to accept the recommendations if you believe that they are not in your best interests. While the panelists make the fairest recommendations possible, they can only go by the information that was submitted by you and your spouse. Furthermore, their main goal is to help you resolve your issues as quickly and cheaply as possible, thereby reducing the court's caseload. Your attorney's goal, on the other hand, is to protect your rights and long-term interests. In addition to your finances, your attorney has intimate knowledge of many other areas of your life, which may be compromised by accepting the panel's recommendations.
If you and your spouse decide to accept the panel's decision after discussing it with your attorneys, the settlement agreement can be submitted to the judge that same day. You can also opt to have your attorneys prepare a written agreement, in which case it can submitted to the judge at a later date. If you decide not to accept the panel's decision, your case will be referred back to the court in order to schedule a hearing date. For more information about the MESP, and other early intervention programs offered by the New Jersey Courts system, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.