Resolving a dispute through litigation has the possibility to be a lengthy, financially difficult procedure. Trials involving divorce and child custody disputes can also be emotionally wrenching. New Jersey has implemented complementary dispute resolution (CDR) as a more efficient, less costly alternative to active litigation to help parties to arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.
There are four family division CDR programs:
- Matrimonial early settlement panel (MESP)
- Economic mediation
- Custody and parenting time mediation
- Family mediation/referee programs
The MESP program was set up to help couples resolve issues in a contested divorce proceeding. Each party in the divorce submits a Case Information Statement , position on outstanding financial issues and other supporting documents to the panel. The panel itself is is normally made up of up to three attorneys who have substantial experience in family and divorce law. After speaking with the lawyers representing each party, the panel usually makes recommendations regarding division of assets and other matters. The divorcing couple is not bound to accept these recommendations, but may do so. Often, the parties utilize the recommendations made at the MESP to help craft their final settlement or narrow the issues in dispute.
Economic issues that are not resolved by a MESP panel may be referred to court-appointed economic mediators. The MESP program does not make recommendations about child custody and/or parenting time, but family mediation and referee programs are available to help parents come to an arrangement that takes the best interests of the children into account.
New Jersey family courts pioneered complementary dispute resolution as a way to help streamline contested divorce cases. It is still important, however, to have the advice and guidance of an experienced divorce/family law attorney who can help you understand your options and legal rights, and make sure you get the best outcome for your specific circumstances.