By: Carl A. Taylor III Esq.

If you pursue New Jersey Divorce litigation long enough, you will eventually be required to attend an Early Settlement Panel. This can be a confusing development for parties to a divorce, who will be sure to have many questions such as: what is an early settlement panel anyway?  Or: who makes up this panel, and what is its function?

Luckily, a New Jersey Early Settlement Panel is not as complicated as it may first seem to the uninitiated.

What Are They?

Essentially, a New Jersey Early Settlement Panel is a court-ordered form of non-binding arbitration.  It is a required hearing under Court Rule 5:5-5. On the day of the early settlement panel, both parties and their attorneys will be scheduled to come to Court and have an audience with the Early Settlement panelists.

There, the panel members will usually meet first with the attorneys, and later with the parties.*  Prior to the Early Settlement Panel day, most counties/panelists will require some form of legal memorandum and/or legal documentation.

An Early Settlement Panel often takes the following format: the panelists ask the attorneys to review the major outstanding issues.  The basic goal of every panel is to endorse or effectuate settlement.  This is one of many ways the court system helps control its docket and keep the amount of trials low and sustainable for the county.

Usually, one attorney will get a chance to argue their positions before the panel.  Then, when they are done, the other attorney will get to do likewise.  Thereafter, the parties will generally be brought in, and the panelists will give their opinions as to how they think the Judge would decide the outstanding issues.   The underlying goal is that parties who have been advancing unsupportable positions will, upon learning that their positions are likely to prevail, be more likely to drop those positions and enter into a fair settlement.

Since the decision is non-binding, the panelists cannot force the parties to be bound by their decision or to otherwise settle.

Who Are The Panelists?

The panelists are generally two (2) experienced in-county family law attorneys.

Conclusion

Early Settlement Panels are important.  Although Early Settlement Panels do not settle or dispose of a case, they do help shape the tenor of future negotiations.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.