The Self-Help Guide to Divorce in NJ
Divorce is not an easy step to take, nor is the process fast and painless.
Unfortunately, if you are here then there is a good possibility that your life is not matching up to your expectations, or you’re on the receiving end of your spouse’s unhappiness.
In either event, divorce proceedings can be complex and stressful. It may feel like a door is closing or a massive chapter is ending, and to some extent that is true.
But there is good news: if a chapter is ending then a new one is ready to begin.
How you begin that chapter, and with what resources, is largely in the hands of your legal representation and the experience that representation brings to your case.
Here at Fabrikant Law, we strongly believe that our role is to ensure your new future has the best possible start, with the most resources available.
We also believe in our clients educating themselves on the topic of New Jersey divorces and have provided a substantial number of resources below.
Grounds for Divorce in NJ
Although clients oftentimes give a number of reasons for why they are getting divorced, adultery being one of the most common; irreconcilable differences is the reason provided to New Jersey Courts in more than half of all NJ divorces.
Divorce can be a complex, and emotionally draining process, where one or both spouses may want to ‘right the wrongs’ of the past. Unfortunately, that has the potential to drag out divorce proceedings, increase costs, and inevitably prevent the ultimate outcome: parting ways.
So, in order to avoid conflict and dredging up of the past, ‘irreconcilable differences’ can be the provided reason, because a divorce based on irreconcilable differences is a no-fault divorce. It is the go-to minimal conflict solution.
That said, there are stipulations that must apply to both spouses for ‘irreconcilable differences’:
- Twelve months of continuous residence in New Jersey, prior to filing divorce papers;
- Swearing, under oath, to at least six months of irreconcilable differences;
- The certainty that marriage should end based on said differences;
- Acknowledgment that there is no chance for reconciliation.
Read more: Grounds for divorce in New Jersey
How To File For Divorce in NJ?
Divorce Attorney Note: In order to file for divorce in New Jersey, NJ law requires that either you or your spouse be a resident of NJ for at least 12 consecutive months.
Filing for divorce in NJ begins with filling out, and submitting, a document called a “Complaint For Divorce” with the Family Court clerk located in your county.
For instance, if you live in Bergen County, your Complaint for Divorce would be filed with the Bergen County Family Court clerk located at the Bergen County Justice Center (which is also where your trial for divorce would occur, if necessary).
In the Complaint, you’ll need to specify the grounds for divorce.
The basis for a divorce most often used is “irreconcilable differences.” The Complaint for Divorce must be personally served on your spouse, unless they agree to sign an Acknowledgement of Service.
How does a divorce in New Jersey work?
The process for a divorce in New Jersey can follow a path of up to seven steps that starts with filing the complaint for divorce and ending with an actual divorce trial. That said, the process can be completed before reaching all seven steps and the majority of divorces end before going to trial.
Step One: File a divorce complaint
To begin your divorce process, either you or your spouse must file a divorce complaint with the court. The one who files is named the Plaintiff, and the other spouse will be the Defendant.
No, it does not matter who filed for divorce first, in New Jersey, and it does not matter who is Plaintiff and who is Defendant.
The divorce complaint will need to include both the names and addresses of both spouses, the date and the location of your marriage, other various details, as well as the relief you are requesting from the Court.
Step Two: Appearance/Answer & Counterclaim
In New Jersey, the person who is served with the filed divorce complaint must respond to it within 35 days, especially if that spouse wants any of his or her issues to be heard. The spouse receiving the divorce complaint will be named the defendant.
The response may either include the filing of a general appearance or an answer and counterclaim, which is a response to the complaint, along with a request for relief against the plaintiff. If the defendant does not comply and chooses not to respond to the complaint, a separate procedure, a request for default, will be the next step.
Step Three: Filing a Case Information Sheet
Once the defendant responds to the divorce complaint, the next step is for each spouse to file a Case Information Statement (also referred to as a CIS). The CIS is the most important document (in addition to the Settlement Agreement) and will include most of the financial information about each party that will be relevant to all the financial issues in the case. This includes financial support as well as equitable distribution.
Step Four: Settlement Agreement or Early Settlement Panel
Both parties, with the assistance of their attorneys, should try to reach a settlement agreement after the filing of the divorce complaint. However, if a settlement cannot be reached, the parties will need to participate in what is called an Early Settlement Panel (also referred to as ESP).
At ESP, the attorneys will present the financial issues in your case to a two-person panel of family law attorneys volunteering their time. The panelists will make a recommendation for how to come to a resolution for said issues. If both parties accept the recommendations, they can be divorced that day. If both parties do not accept the recommendations or form an agreement, the two parties will need to move on to the next step.
Step Five: Economic Mediation
If neither you nor your spouse accepts the recommendations of the Early Settlement Panel, you will need to participate in what is called Economic Mediation to try to come to an agreement once more. Here another family lawyer attempts to help both parties reach a resolution. If you still cannot come to an agreement, the parties must move onto the sixth step.
Step Six: Intensive Settlement Conference
If Economic Mediation did not work, the two spouses must attend an Intensive Settlement Conference (also referred to as ISC) that takes place in a courthouse to try one last time to settle. It should be noted that not all counties offer ISC. If this does not happen, you will finally need to take your case to trial.
Step Seven: Taking it to Trial
If none of the above steps worked and the two parties have not come to an agreement, the last step is to finally take the case to trial. Here, the judge will hear all testimony, review evidence, and decide the issues. The court will issue a Final Judgement of Divorce which grants the divorce, as well as sets forth custody, parenting time, all financial obligations and divides the assets and debts.
How does an Uncontested NJ Divorce differ from a Contested Divorce?
An uncontested New Jersey divorce is where both of the parties agree to terms settling the issues in their case and have signed a settlement agreement. This includes all issues ranging from custody, child support, alimony, and equitable distribution (division of property, assets, debts).
In other words, an uncontested divorce happens when both people agree they no longer want to be married, and decide how to divide their assets/responsibilities without needing the court to intervene.
On the other hand, a contested divorce is one where the parties cannot settle (agree) and usually end up having to go to trial to be divorced. A contested divorce becomes uncontested as soon as the parties reach a settlement.
Read more about how an uncontested divorce by default works…
What about Child Custody in NJ?
Child custody is often one of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process. There may also be significant emotions involved, both positive and negative.
- Where will my children go?
- When will I get to see them?
- Can they be moved out of state?
- What happens if my former spouse won’t let me see them?
This is a complex topic with deep considerations. To help you along the way, we created this guide: A Broad Overview of NJ Child Custody.
What do I need to know about child support in New Jersey?
We can’t discuss child custody without also touching on child support.
Without getting too far off the rails, child support is far more complex than it may seem on the surface. Thankfully the courts have come a long way towards trying to make the child rearing process as fair and equitable as possible.
Where Do I Find a Lawyer For My New Jersey Divorce?
Experienced family law representation can easily mean the difference between an unpleasant outcome and exiting your current situation with as many resources as possible.
We always recommend searching out an attorney with experience in New Jersey divorces, so you can receive the most accurate and thorough guidance.
Of course, if you are looking for an experienced divorce attorney in the Bergen County or Middlesex County area, look no further than right here at Fabrikant Law.
Read more: How to find a New Jersey divorce lawyer.
The Cost of Divorce in New Jersey: With or Without an Attorney
The one immutable fact here is that divorces cost money. While we’ve pointed out that no two divorces are alike, there are still a few factors that will impact that cost.
- Conflict. What is a divorce after all, if not a conflict? Its resolution is what makes the difference. Will there be a degree of discord that will hamper proceedings? Or will there be cooperation? So many key choices and decisions stand to be affected.
- Complexity. There can be a lot of moving parts to the divorce “machine”. What sort of details or intricacies will each of your respective lives bring to the equation? The complexities of your case must be sorted out by a capable divorce attorney before you can have an idea of what this will cost you.
- Location. What state or county do you live in? In this case, we are only talking about New Jersey. This state, its laws and rules, will have its own contributing factors just as any state in the union would.
- Who and how? Who will be handling your case? In other words, the attorney you hire will obviously have input when it comes to what your divorce will cost you. Furthermore, the divorce method or option you choose will make a big difference.
What About Alimony in NJ?
Alimony is one of the biggest contention points of a New Jersey divorce, and can often cause the divorce proceedings to lengthen due to conflict.
Can I Bring Someone With Me to Meetings with the Attorney?
You are allowed to bring a third party with you (whether it be a friend, family member, or a neighbor) to your meetings with your attorney, but it can break any attorney-client privilege that you have. In other words, bringing another person to the meeting means the meeting is no longer confidential; there is a third person there.
Think of it this way, if you want to tell your friend a secret that they can’t tell anyone else, and that secret is only between you and that friend, would you do it with a third friend in the conversation? Of course not! Because they can just as easily go tell everyone!
Normally people bring someone to the initial consultation, before the attorney is retained, to ask questions, or give moral support. In that case, there is no attorney-client privilege yet because you haven’t actually hired that attorney. Yet.
How Long Will my New Jersey Divorce Take?
You’ve probably heard it before- divorces seem to take forever. So why does divorce take so long?
For better or worse, divorce is a legal process that involves a whole lot of steps, legal filings, and court time. That means we are usually at the mercy of how full the court calendar is at any given time. Think about it, if everyone in your town hypothetically filed for divorce at the same time, they would all be trying to get their paperwork through the same court. Simultaneously. The court only has so much time on it’s calendar to do business, so timelines can get stretched out.
It’s like the DMV and trying to renew your license on the 31st.
That said, the average length of time for a New Jersey divorces is one (1) year, though there are many reasons why it may take more, or less, time.
Read More: Why Does Divorce Take So Long?
Should I go to mediation and should I bring a lawyer to mediation?
It is always recommended to be represented by your own attorney even when attending mediation because the mediator is a neutral third party and does not represent you or your spouse. That means you are on your own to negotiate “the system” without your own attorney present to help.
Divorce can be a highly emotional time. Plans and a relationship that were central to your life at one point simply no longer exist. We understand the roller coaster of emotions that a divorce can cause and we support our clients every way we can.
Ann Fabrikant helps spouses with preparing for a divorce, going through the divorce process, post-divorce legal disputes and appeals of legal decisions. If you are considering getting a divorce and need advice or the process has already started and you need legal help, contact our office today.