The Intensive Settlement Conference (aka “ISC”): What You Need to Know
Courts in New Jersey try to help parties resolve their divorce at several different stages of the litigation. There is Custody and Parenting Mediation, Case Management Conferences with parties and counsel, the Early Settlement Panel (ESP) and Post-ESP mediation. If all those opportunities prove unsuccessful, the court will then schedule an all-day Intensive Settlement Conference, or ISC. This event is all day in court, with the other party and both of your attorneys.
An Intensive Settlement Conference is exactly what it sounds like: intense. You will spend the day with your spouse and each of your attorneys trying to resolve all, or part, of the issues in your case. Throughout the day, the attorneys meet with each other, the two of you, and the judge, in chambers, without you being present to try to settle your case. It may seem, this late in the game, like both parties are firmly entrenched and this is a pointless exercise. However, that’s not the case, and judges are often successful at breaking down issues and helping the parties to work through them in an effort to resolve the case.
After arriving in the morning, the parties will check in with the judge and the attorneys may meet with the judge in chambers to discuss what issues remain unresolved, each party’s position and how to try to work through each issue. The attorneys will then go out and meet with their clients to discuss any suggestions made by the judge and see if a resolution can be reached. If not, the attorneys will discuss amongst themselves where things stand and try to resolve or to narrow the issues and then report back to the judge as to where they are in negotiations and the remaining issues. This process will repeat itself throughout the day. The judge may meet with one attorney and then the other attorney by themselves, called a “caucus” to try to work through issues and to find a compromise. The judge may also have the parties come into the courtroom to discuss the issues with the parties and will likely record those proceedings. The judge cannot and will not meet with parties in chambers.
There are some judges who do not want to involve themselves at the ISC process, since they will be making the ultimate determination if the case has to go to trial. Therefore, they will ask another family law judge to handle the ISC meet with the attorneys, with or without the parties, to try to add their perspective to same.
It is important that each party give real effort to resolving the case at ISC and, if the entire case can’t be resolved, then in trying to resolve issues so that they do not have to be part of a trial. The judges will tell you that, although they are more than willing and able are able to decide the issues in your case, any resolution the two of you reach yourselves will be one that you are much happier with, and more likely to follow, than any decision made by the court. Remember the judge is largely a stranger to the two of you and your family. Therefore, if you decide to go to trial, you are asking that stranger to make life-long decisions about you and your family.
If you are not successful in resolving your case at the ISC, the court may schedule another ISC, or a possibly even a Blue Ribbon Panel (similar to an ESP, but with only the most experienced family law attorneys) to try to resolve your case before scheduling trial. You will be told that a trial will exponentially increase attorneys’ fees for each of you as the attorneys have to prepare for and conduct the trial. At trial, one of the things the judge will consider is whether one party pays the other party’s counsel fees. In order to make that decision, one of the factors the court has to consider is the reasonableness of each party’s settlement position during the matter and at trial. So, you will always want to consider the reasonableness of your position when taking one and to discuss it with your attorney. Your goal should be to reach a fair settlement that allows you to resolve your matter and to move forward without spending all the money the two of you have worked so hard to accumulate during your marriage. It is actually very common for the ISC to accomplish this goal, even for acrimonious cases.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these issues or other family law, domestic violence, municipal court, or criminal law issues, we encourage you to reach out to Daly & Associates at (973) 292-9222. We are ready to help you reach a resolution that works for you and your family.