In New Jersey, divorcing couples who cannot come to an agreement may need to present their case at a formal hearing. However, the courts present couples with numerous methods to settle their differences before going to trial. These methods include the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP), a program in which couples try to settle their financial disputes with help from a matrimonial law attorney.
Couples may also be required to try mediation, during which they will attempt to negotiate an agreement with help from a certified mediator. If these attempts are unsuccessful, the court will begin the process of proceeding to trial, which typically begins with the pretrial conference.
These conferences are not required by law, but most judges schedule them in order to collect information from both parties. Much of the requested information is submitted through legal briefs, in which the spouses argue their case using statutory laws and legal precedents. Each party may also present witness lists, exhibit lists, and a list of stipulations, or conditions that both parties agree to before the trial. Stipulations are a complex legal concept, and should not be devised without help from an attorney. On the one hand, stipulations can be very useful since you won't have to waste time proving those statements in court. On the other hand, they can also limit the possibilities of what you can and can't present in court. Only a family law attorney with extensive trial experience can determine how these legal considerations apply to your specific case.
In addition to the exhibit list, most judges will ask for the actual exhibits, which are the items or documents that will be presented as evidence at the trial. Although this may seem like an unnecessary step, one of the goals of the pretrial conference is to help couples come to an agreement before the trial date. The judge will attempt to do this by explaining the most likely outcome of going to trial, which he or she would be best able to determine after reviewing the evidence. Since the exhibits are such an important part of the trial process, you should have an attorney prepare these for you. Remember that irrelevant or disorganized exhibits can hurt your case, even if you have compelling evidence. Along with knowing what types of evidence will best support your case, a family law attorney is aware of the presentation format preferred by New Jersey's superior court judges.
Regardless of where you are in the divorce process, please consider speaking with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. The New Jersey family courts allow you to represent yourself in a divorce, but highly recommend that you seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. Legal representation is especially important if you anticipate disagreements with your spouse over issues such as custody, alimony and property division. Our lawyers offer free initial consultations, so you have nothing to lose by finding out about your rights and options.