Early Settlement Panels (ESPs)

In the early 20th century, Dr. Duncan MacDougall attempted to quantify the mass lost when the soul departed the body upon death. This study has perpetuated the weight idiosyncratically known as “21 Grams.” Although this theory has largely been dismissed by later studies, the better question is: how much weight does your soul

Given the shortage of judges, backlog in the system and the rash of new judges, alternative dispute resolution has been coming more and more prevalent in the divore cases.  For as long as I can remember, custody and parenting time mediation and Early Settlement Panels have been mandatory in New Jersey.  For the last decade,

This is my final offer!!!  Don’t you just love the ultimatum, the line in the sand, the threat of Armageddon if capitulation is not immediately at hand?  I sure do.  Is it because I love to go to trial?  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy trial but that is not the reason. 

Seldom does it mean

There is no secret that New Jersey is suffering a significant crisis with respect to judicial vacancies. This year alone has seen a significant number of retirements without replacements being named.  The effect on the family courts, and in particular, the divorce docket, has been catastrophic.   I was at a meeting of family lawyers just recently at which the assignment judge of a county in the southern part of the state was kind enough to come and discuss directly with the bar the situation.  And while I deeply appreciated the fact that he did, and the efforts that the judges are making to accommodate the needs of the public, the fact of the matter is that the situation is untenable throughout the state.  In some counties, the situation is so bad that there are no, I mean no, trials for contested divorce cases.  In others, a case will not reach a judge for final disposition for three years,  In several counties, judges have upwards of 500 cases to handle.  Only a superhuman can give a matter the attention it deserves when having that type of case load.

The purpose of this blog is not to pass blame, nor to comment of the swirl of political posturing that goes on when this subject comes up. Rather, despite the fact that the vast majority of judges that I know are working late nights and weekends, they simply can’t keep up effectively.  And that means that attorneys and litigants have to find an alternate method to resolve their cases in order to save money and get on with their lives and those of their children. Any good family lawyer will have an honest conversation about the cost ridden road to the Courthouse.  Certainly, there are times that judicial intervention is necessary and as lawyers, we are prepared to take a case to the judge. However, alternate dispute resolution is an important piece of the puzzle.

There are several effective methods of alternative dispute resolution that must be considered by litigants.  Some of these are woven into the court system.  Some are complimentary to the system. Before filing for divorce, talk with your lawyer to determine whether mediation, or arbitration is a viable option for your situation.

Mediation can occur any time during the process, and can happen with or without attorneys. Many times litigants will agree to go to a mediator to resolve their differences and then the mediator will prepare a memorandum of the agreement that the parties have reviewed by their respective counsel.  Sometimes, someone may be uncomfortable going through mediation without legal counsel.  In that case, going with a lawyer can be a cost and time effective method to settle the case. When you go with a lawyer, you can make sure that your rights are protected, and you do not agree to anything without having the opportunity to discuss the ramifications.


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Mark Ashton, a partner in our Exton, Pennsylvania office, and a contributor the firm’s Pennsylvania Family Law blog, wrote an excellent post on that blog entitled "A Divorce Negotiation Primer".

There are several points I would like to highlight:

  • negotiations are confidential and cannot be introduced in court, except for very limited circumstances, but not as to the

Several months ago, I posted a blog entry entitled "All Cases Have a Life of Their Own"  To view that entry click here.  The premise was that while most cases settle, they usually will not settle until both parties are ready, emotionally and otherwise, to move on.  That may be the case even if

While statistically, 99% of all cases settle, some cases take longer than others to get there.  Moreover, some cases require the assistance of a third party to help one or both party or attorney get past whatever it is that is holding the case up from resolving itself.

I, for one, have been skeptical of