Understanding the Matrimonial Early Settlement Program MESP
You are going through your divorce. You have carefully completed your case information statement, tirelessly worked on completing your answers to interrogatories, and collected all the relevant documents for your document production. The evaluations for your real estate, closely held businesses and personal property have all been completed. The discovery phase of your divorce is now complete. You may be wondering, “Now what”? After discovery is completed the litigation is scheduled for an Early Settlement Panel (ESP) or Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP). Both MESP and ESP are the same programs, some counties use the ESP moniker as opposed to the MESP.
A MESP is essentially non binding arbitration for family law cases. The “arbitrators” are two seasoned matrimonial lawyers who volunteer their time to help resolve divorce cases. Before going to this “non-binding arbitration” the attorneys for the parties prepare and submit memorandums to the arbitrators outlining their respective positions for resolution of the litigation. The MESP memorandums typically include proofs of asset values such as real estate appraisal reports, bank statements, retirement account statements, and other exhibits that are anticipated to be presented at trial.
The time period for submitting MESP memorandum to the panelists varies form county to county. Most counties require submission of memorandum 5 to 7 days in advance. Some counties, such as Cape May have the memorandums submitted the day of the MESP.
At the MESP hearing the attorneys orally present the positions of the parties . After considering the memorandums, the informal presentation of evidence, and oral argument, the MESP panelists give a joint proposal to settle the case. The proposal is based upon how the panelist believe a judge would resolve the case after a full trial. The recommendation takes into account that the only had the benefit of an informal presentation of evidence.
The MESP recommendation is for economic issues only, ie equitable distribution, alimony/support, and attorney fees. The MESP panel recommendation does not consider non-economic issues such as custody and parenting time. Those issues are handled separately.
Neither party is required to to settle the case for the recommendation of the panelists. However, it is often advisable to consider the recommendation closely. Often the receipt of the recommendation can be a springboard to reaching a divorce settlement. If the matter is not resolved after the MESP the attorneys report to the judge for a pre-trial conference. At the conference the trial date is set and any outstanding discovery issues are addressed.
If you or a loved one has questions regarding divorce, MESP, Divorce settlement, or any other family law matter contact New Jersey Divorce attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele. For a confidential consultation to discuss your situation call, contact us online by clicking here or call us at (856) 546-1350.