This guide will explain what a Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel is, who the panelists are, how to prepare, and what to expect.
What is a MESP?
A MESP or Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel is a court sponsored mandated program designed to assist matrimonial litigants resolve their issues and reach a resolution. In some cases, if the case is settled, the parties can get divorced that day. The MESP generally handles only financial issues, including alimony, child support and equitable distribution. Child custody and parenting time are not included, since these issues are sensitive and in many cases require evaluations and the assistance of experts.
Who are the Panelists?
MESP Panelists are volunteer attorneys who give their time to assist you in settling your case. Although all panelists must have at least 5 years experience in the matrimonial field, most have much, much, more experience. As volunteers they receive no compensation for their time spent in court on your case, and deserve to be treated with respect even if they don't agree with your assessment of your case, or if they recommend something that you disagree with. Remember settlement IS compromise, so you may not be able to get all that you want - be ready to compromise on those issues that may not be as important to you as others.
How should I prepare for the MESP
You or your attorney is requied to submit a proposal outlining how you would like to settle your case to the Panelists. This proposal is due a week or so prior to the date of the MESP. You can assist your attorney by providing them with all the documents they request, and assisting them with your proposal. It helps to consider the financial aspects of your divorce as a business deal, and if at all possible to suspend emotion while participating in the process. Don't get hung up on who did what to who - in most cases it will not effect the financial outcome of your case. Take the time to think about what you really want and what is important to you. Be mindful that there is a cost benefit analysis to be made for every issue, and that some items of property may not be worth the cost of litigating. Remeber also that you and your spouse can fashion a remedy that is much more flexible and tailored to your specific needs.
What to expect at the MESP
Many times the Judge assigned to your case will meet with you and other litigants to introduce the panel and outline the process. Generally the panelists will have reviewed the submission of your attorney as well as the submission of your spouse before the day of the MESP. At the MESP they will first meet with your attorneys to ask questions and discuss the case. Many panelists then excuse the attorneys and discuss the case among themselves, and finally ask both parties and their counsel back to give their recommendations. The recommendations of the panelists are not binding, but generally represent an equitable settlement of the issues in your case. The parties may ask questions of the panelists to see how they came to their recommendations. After all the questions have been answered, the parties are free to accept, reject or modify the recommendations. If the parties agree on all of the issues, you may go before a judge, place the agreement on the record in court, and obtain a divorce then and there. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you will be required to participate in Economic Mediation with a court approved Economic Mediator.
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