Getting divorced can be stressful, even in the most amicable situations. Before you proceed, it’s a good idea to get an idea of what to expect before you begin filing for divorce in NJ. You should, reach out to an experienced family law attorney to guide you through the process.
It’s important to have a basic grasp of the words used when filing for divorce in NJ. If you file the petition, or the one requesting the divorce, you are the plaintiff, and your spouse would be the defendant. The words ‘divorce’ and ‘dissolution’ are used interchangeably, and in fact, the initial form to file is called the ‘Complaint for Divorce/Dissolution.’
A no-fault divorce is in New Jersey is either based on living at two separate residences for at least 18 months before the divorce, or where the parties had irreconcilable differences for at least 6 months before filing. A fault divorce is when a party’s actions resulted in the breakup of the marriage, such as adultery, cruelty or abandonment. It is important to note that in most cases there is nothing to gain by filing a fault divorce. In most situations if you prove fault you will not receive more alimony, child support or receive more in asset division.
One spouse is required to be a New Jersey resident for 12 consecutive months before they can file for divorce within the state. To start a divorce in New Jersey a Complaint for Divorce, Certification of Insurance, Certification of Notification of Complementary Dispute Resolution and a Confidential Litigant Information Sheet needs to be filed. Once all of said documents are stamped filed they need to serve on the defendant except for the Confidential Litigant Information Sheet.
Then a summons needs to be completed and served on the defendant along with the other said documents. The defendant can be served by personal service from a sheriff or a private process server. If the defendant or their attorney signs an Acknowledgement of Service the use of a sheriff or private process server can be avoided.
The defendant must respond within 35 days of receiving the paperwork when filing for divorce in NJ. They can file an appearance, an answer, or a counterclaim. An appearance means there is no objection to the divorce itself, but there may be an objection to some of the terms requested, such as custody or support issues. An answer is where the defendant agrees or disagrees to specific provisions in the complaint. A counterclaim can be added, which is where the defendant can add their reasons for the divorce.
Each party is also required to file a Case Information Sheet, which lists each party’s income, expenses, debts and assets. It is often used to determine temporary or final support issues, and is helpful to the court when dividing up assets
Pre – Trial
This is when pretrial motions are filed: temporary spousal support, temporary child support, custody matters, use of property, and injunctions are all issues that are addressed prior to the final judgment. These orders will remain in effect until the case is finally disposed of, or if the court modifies or terminates any temporary orders.
The court will also hold a case management conference, where all parties and their legal representatives must attend. It is basically a scheduling meeting. The judge sets a discovery period, where the parties will exchange documents, answer interrogatories, and get any appraisals of property completed. The court will set dates for pretrial hearings, evaluations of parties, and even mediation in an attempt to resolve issues before having to proceed with the expense and stress of a trial.
After the discovery period is over, the court will send the case to an Early Settlement Panel, which consists of several matrimonial lawyers who volunteer to resolve the parties disputes concerning financial issues only. The Panel gives a recommendation which is non-binding, on how to settle the matter. If the case is not settled at the Early Settlement Panel then the parties must attend mandatory mediation in which a court approved mediator will donate two hours of their time for free .
Finally, the court will most likely order a mandatory settlement conference with the judge before the trial date, to encourage the parties to resolve their issues. If you do not settle, then you must prepare for trial. However, this process can be helpful in that sometimes parties can agree on some aspects of the divorce, meaning the trial will be shorter and more concentrated than it otherwise would be without these attempts at settlement.
Trial Prep for Divorce In NJ
Prior to trial, the judge will require each party, or their attorneys, to submit a legal brief outlining all arguments. They will also need to exchange evidence they plan to use, subpoena witnesses, and create exhibits. The plaintiff will present their case in chief, and then the defendant. Upon close of trial, the Judge will enter a Judgment of Divorce, which will address custody, visitation, support, and the division of assets. At any point in time before the judgment is passed down, the parties can submit a Final Settlement Agreement, resolving all disputes.
Filing for Divorce in NJ can be a complex process. For guidance, call our office today at 201-845-7400 to schedule a free 30 minute in office consultation with a New Jersey divorce lawyer.