Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP) as a tool to move your divorce to its conclusion
If you filed for divorce in New Jersey and don't settle in the early days, then you're going to participate in a unique process colloquially referred to by family law practitioners as an “MESP.” The what? For starters, this program is not analogous to mediation. It stands for Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel.
Our courts define it as “a program where experienced matrimonial lawyers, volunteer their time, to help people getting divorced to settle their financial issues.” Those experienced lawyers are called MESP “panelists” and, as indicated above, will not focus on contested custody/parenting issues. Their scope of inquiry pertains primarily to spousal support (a.k.a. alimony) and equitable distribution (the division of the parties' tangible and non-tangible marital property, ranging from real property to retirement accounts). The process: an MESP date is assigned not long after a complaint for divorce is filed. It happens at the time of the parties' Case Management Conference when the Court, either through order or consent of the plaintiff and defendant, sets forth a discovery schedule for the divorce (e.g. deciding how soon the home will be appraised, and adjudicating which expert will conduct the child custody evaluation). All parties and their respective attorneys need to show up for the MESP date. In advance, or in a few cases on the day of the appearance, attorneys submit financial memorandum on behalf of their clients along with a filed copy of each parties' case information statement (or “CIS”) to aid the panelists. The day starts when a Superior Court Family Part judge welcomes all participating parties, gives instructions, and encourages everyone to take the process seriously before assigning each case to a set of panelists and a conference room. The parties subsequently wait in the hallway while the attorneys (or an unrepresented party if he or she is proceeding pro se) sit down with the panelists and discuss the case's financial dimensions at length. The ultimate product of the panelists' deliberations is a non-binding recommendation which the parties must either accept or reject.
If the recommendation is accepted by all parties, the Court may put the divorce through and finalize the divorce that same day (assuming, of course, that any custody/parenting issues are also resolved). Often time, however, the parties retire to their respective attorneys' offices to finalize the language before returning within a couple of weeks (or days) for an uncontested hearing. If there is not an agreement, the judge may schedule a trial date or a status conference with the attorneys in order to attempt to keep negotiations moving along in addition to ordering the completion of any additional or overdue discovery-related activities. There is an important distinction to remember here: like mediation, the outcome of an MESP is non-binding on the parties, but unlike mediation, however, participating in an MESP is not voluntary, and the MESP panelists are strictly focusing on money-related issues. Experienced counsel can put you in the best possible position to navigate the dissolution of your marriage and achieve an optimal outcome in line with your goals. If you or a loved one has questions regarding the New Jersey MESP program or the divorce process generally, please contact the child custody attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele. For a confidential consultation to discuss your situation with one of our New Jersey custody attorneys, you can also call (856) 546-1350. ______