Divorce In New Jersey Process

REQUIREMENTS NECESSARY TO FILE FOR DIVORCE

  • You or your spouse must have resided in the state of New Jersey for at least one year prior to filing for divorce.
  • If the grounds for the divorce is adultery, there is no required residency period, but you or your spouse will need to provide an affidavit attesting that one of you is a New Jersey resident at the time of the filing.
  • The Complaint for Divorce Form must be filed in the County Clerk’s Office of the State Court of the county in which you or your spouse reside or work.
  • You must supply three copies of the Complaint as well as the following documents:’
    • Filing Letter to the Court—Complaint Form
    • Certification of Insurance
    • Certification of Notification of Complementary Dispute Resolution
    • Family Part Case Information Statement
    • Confidential Litigant Information Sheet
    • You must also provide filing fees at the time you submit your complaint.

HELPFUL TIPS

  • If you are considering filing for divorce without an attorney, you can find a step by step walkthrough on filing your paperwork at MyDivorcePapers.com. This outstanding service also provides the necessary forms for completing a divorce in New Jersey and is only $159.
  • If you require additional expertise about the divorce process, you can find it at avvo.com. Best of all this service is free!
  • While divorce is usually a combative process, if you can set aside the hostility and hammer out a written agreement with your spouse about property division, child custody and spousal support, you can save thousands in legal and court fees.
  • If you feel you need the services of an attorney, it is important you bring three things to your initial consultation:
    • Tax returns
    • List of assets and debts
    • List of income and expenses

GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE IN NJ

New Jersey permits both “no-fault” and fault divorces.

There are two types of no-fault divorces permitted in New Jersey:

  • You can file a no-fault divorce if you have been living in separate residences for at least 18 months prior to filing
  • You can file a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences. You and your spouse must have experienced an inability to continue in the marriage for at least 6 months.

New Jersey law also permits fault divorces based on the following grounds:

STEP 1: FILING THE DIVORCE DOCUMENTS

The actual document you will need to file to begin the divorce process is the Complaint for Divorce form (Find all New Jersey divorce forms here). In addition to the Complaint you will need to also submit

  • Filing Letter to the Court—Complaint Form
  • Certification of Insurance
  • Certification of Notification of Complementary Dispute Resolution
  • Family Part Case Information Statement
  • Confidential Litigant Information Sheet

You will need to submit these documents to the County Clerk of the State Court in which you or your spouse live or work. The filing fees are dependent upon the jurisdiction but typically are about $250. At the time of filing, you will receive a docket number which will help you keep track of your case.

STEP 2: SERVICE OF PROCESS

Under New Jersey law, once you have filed for divorce, you must provide legal notice to your spouse. The easiest method of accomplishing this is providing copies of all submitted forms to your spouse and having them sign a receipt stating they were legally served. If your spouse refuses this method, then you may use a variety of other methods:

  • Mail—you may mail the complaint and summons to your spouse’s home address using certified or registered mail
  • Attorney—your attorney can serve the divorce papers in person
  • Sheriff’s deputy
  • Professional process server
  • Competent adult—anyone over the age of 18 without an interest in the divorce case serve the papers

Once your spouse, who is designated as the Defendant in the complaint, receives the divorce papers, they have 35 days to answer. The responses to a Complaint for Divorce are

  • The defendant may file an Answer, which may agree with all of the points in the complaint, or disagree with some or all of the points
  • The defendant may file an Appearance which agrees to the divorce, but disagrees to certain issues like spousal support or property division
  • The defendant may file a Counterclaim which provides additional grounds for divorce
  • If the defendant does not file a response within 35 days, the judge may issue a default judgment, in which the judge is likely to agree to all of the requests in the Complaint for Divorce

STEP 3: CONTESTED OR UNCONTESTED DIVORCE

The divorce process is not an easy one. This difficult procedure is likely to stir up many emotions including anger, grief and acrimony, which is why it is in your best interest to resolve all of the major issues like property and debt distribution, child custody and spousal support BEFORE you initiate the legal process. If you and your spouse can produce an amicable settlement which should be signed and notarized, you are both likely to save thousands of dollars in legal fees and months of time.

When filling a divorce in New Jersey you have two options:

Uncontested Divorce (Lower Cost)

  • To qualify for an uncontested divorce you must meet these criteria:
    • Have an agreement regarding child custody and support, tax deductions and exemptions, property division, alimony
    • Been married for less than five years
    • A settlement agreement eliminates the need for a trial
    • If you are involved in an uncontested divorce, you may be able to complete the procedure without an attorney, which can save you a great deal of money
    • New Jersey allows uncontested divorces to proceed to a final hearing where the judge review the agreement and sign the final divorce decree

Contested Divorce (Higher Cost)

  • You and your spouse will likely have to go to trial where the judge will make the ultimate decision regarding any disputed issues
  • You will almost assuredly need to hire an attorney to protect your interests
  • Prior to a trial, your attorney will need to conduct discovery which investigates all of the major issues of the divorce. This may include witness interviews, document requests and evidence examination.
  • Discovery may require weeks or months of additional time
  • Many attorneys will delegate their investigative responsibilities to junior partners or private investigators.
  • Your and your spouse’s attorney may spend weeks attempting to negotiate an acceptable agreement, but if negotiations fail, a trial will be required
  • In a trial, there is no guarantee that you will receive the outcome you desire
  • A contested divorce can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

STEP 4: HOW TO PROCEED WITH YOUR DIVORCE

Self-Representation (Lowest Cost)

The divorce process can be a challenging process, but thousands of New Jersey residents successfully accomplish this each year without an attorney. Many of these people are able to complete this procedure by utilizing the services of MyDivorcePapers.com which guides them through each step of the process. It is important to first produce a viable settlement agreement with your spouse which details how property will be divided, support will be provided to a spouse, and how child custody will be apportioned. Once you have an agreement, you can use MyDivorcePapers.com to obtain the necessary forms for each stage of the divorce proceedings. Self-representation can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Mediation (Medium Cost)

Like many other states, New Jersey encourages couples who are considering a divorce to utilize the services of a professional mediator. These professionals are not legal authorities which can bind parties to an agreement, but they do possess skills in helping resolve personal conflicts. A divorce judge may recommend a mediator prior to a trial in an attempt to produce a negotiated settlement. While most mediators cost less than attorneys, they are still more costly than conducting an uncontested divorce through self-representation.

Attorneys (Highest Cost)

If you and your spouse are unable to agree on certain issues, then the judge will appoint a trial date. You and your spouse will almost certainly need a trained litigator to conduct investigations into each party’s allegations, prepare arguments, submit appropriate documents and make arguments in open court. Most attorneys will demand a significant fee for each of these responsibilities. The more experienced your attorney is, the more likely you are to receive what you desire from the divorce, but their fees are also likely to be higher. In many complicated divorce cases, the costs can exceed $10,000.

STEP 5: ADDRESSING THE MAJOR ISSUES

In almost every contested divorce, the issues of contention involve distribution of assets and debts, child custody and support, or alimony. If you and your spouse have unresolved differences about these issues, you should understand how New Jersey courts typically treat them.

Property Division

New Jersey law is based on the concept of equitable distribution which espouses fairness. The court will consider a number of factors when attempting to fairly divide property and debts.

  • Equitable distribution does not apply to separate property which may include
    • Assets from before the marriage
    • Gifts or inheritances
    • Length of marriage
    • Age and health of spouses
    • Property each spouse contributed
    • Financial situation of each spouse
    • Sacrifices made by each spouse for the other’s success
    • Appraised value of properties
    • Responsibilities for childrearing
    • Tax liabilities

Once the value of property has been determined, the judge will distribute it accordingly. When a property can be divided, the judge will award the appropriate share to each spouse. If the asset is indivisible, the judge may order its sale and divide the proceeds. The judge may also award a share in a property like a business, in effect making spouses co-owners. In some cases, a judge may award an asset to one spouse while awarding another asset of similar value to the other.

Child Custody

The ultimate goal in any child custody decision is to place the child in a situation which is most conducive for his or her wellbeing. When making a decision, the judge may consider these factors:

  • Physical safety—any parent with a history of domestic violence is likely to be disqualified from custody or have limited access to the child. However, most courts favor shared parenting, so there must be demonstrable proof that a parent poses a physical risk to the child
  • Emotional engagement—courts favor keeping siblings together and will allow mature children to voice their preferences.
  • Shared parenting—courts will prioritize co-parenting, and attempt to provide time for both parents with the child. Any interference in these interactions on the part of one parent may lead to loss of certain parenting privileges.
  • Custody arrangements—if you and your spouse can agree to a parenting schedule, the judge will typically accept it. Otherwise, the court may require mediation or appoint an attorney to represent the child.

Spousal Support

Spousal support is very closely tied with property division in New Jersey. Although a formula is not used in New Jersey, the ultimate goal of spousal support is to maintain the lifestyle that both spouses experienced during the marriage, as well as sharing the financial burdens of the divorce. The judge is likely to consider the following factors when making an alimony determination:

  • Length of marriage
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Income and earning potential of each spouse
  • Financial contributions to the marriage
  • Tax liabilities
  • Property division

A judge may also decide on the type of alimony awarded.

  • Temporary alimony is only to sustain a spouse while the divorce is ongoing
  • Limited duration is for a set number of months or years and is usually awarded in cases when the marriage was of shorter duration
  • Rehabilitative alimony is to support a spouse while they prepare to return to the workforce.
  • Permanent alimony is usually awarded for longer marriages and spouses who are incapable of supporting themselves.

STEP 6: FINALIZING THE DIVORCE

If you are involved in a contested divorce, you and your spouse will need to attend a trial. At the trial, the judge will hear arguments from you and your spouse and render a final decision on any disputes. This may take from one to several days. Following the trial, the judge will issue the Final Judgment of Dissolution, which finalizes the divorce.

If you and your spouse are involved in an uncontested divorce in New Jersey, the two of you will need to attend a final hearing, where the judge will ask both parties if they support the marriage agreement. Upon acceptance, the judge will then sign the Final Judgment of Dissolution.

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