The Nassau County Supreme Court Matrimonial Part has recently provided a new program that permits litigants to appear before court certified Masters (attorneys whose practice is limited to matrimonial matters) to obtain an opinion as to what a court would award if the case proceeded to trial with the additional costs and increasing trauma that preparation for trial would necessarily incur. It is hoped that such a program would lead to agreed to settlements that would alleviate court congestion and reduce the cost to litigate a case to conclusion.
It is to be remembered that once a case results in a settlement, the right to appeal is lost. However, the finality that results has made this remedy a much better choice for many clients.
The mediation process that is held before a special master is initially without charge, and the resultant decision made is not binding on either of the parties. Both parties will be represented by independent counsel and submit their arguments why the financial facts of the case justify an award of spousal and child support they propose, as well as a division of assets. If the parties feel that the resultant determination by a master is fair to both, a written agreement will be drawn and incorporated into the divorce decree. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, they will have several options. They can agree to continue the mediation with the same master or request someone else. In that case, cost to continue will be involved and the master’s time will be charged at $300 an hour until the case is settled or withdrawn.
Just participating in the mediation process may well make it far easier to reach a settlement during trial than without such advisory opinion. It would be to every litigant’s benefit to discuss the mediation process with his or her attorney and determine whether the program would be of benefit to you. In this writer’s opinion, you really have nothing to lose and may save a considerable amount of time, money and mental distress by reaching a settlement before trial.
Preparation for trial can consume untold hours, and the resultant increase of fees that will necessarily be incurred. Make certain to explore at length with your lawyer these benefits before proceeding further with the litigation of your case.