The Self-Help Guide to Divorce in NJ


Chances are, if you’re reading this, something in your life has not gone the way you ever expected it to. A way you never planned it to.

For that alone, I am sorry.

Whether you are here to make changes in your life, or are at the receiving end of your spouses changes, some feelings will still be the same.

It may feel like a door is closing or a massive chapter is ending. You may feel like you failed, like things spiraled out of control, no matter how hard you tried.

For the first time in recent memory, you are suddenly forced to make some major decisions without a partner. Worse yet, the person you once relied on to be the other half of nearly every decision you made… The one person who was always supposed to be on your side…

Is now on the other side. Against you.

Again, I know and I am sorry.

But there is good news: if a chapter is ending, then a new one must be ready to begin.

And while the divorce process may seem incredibly complex and full of pitfalls… You can do this.

In the 15 years that I have been representing New Jersey divorce cases, all new clients seem to come into my office with the same feelings of being hopelessly overwhelmed by everything they think they need to know.

That’s why I created this guide. So you can start getting some answers now.

At the top, you’ll find some of the most common questions I get about divorce in NJ that can be answered in a short paragraph.

Further down, there are subtopics addressing the more complex NJ divorce questions, with many having additional pages to round out the topic.

Divorce is a complex topic, that is why this guide is divided into sections.

Feel free to make use of any information here. It’s here for you.

If you have any questions, my office # is (732) 659-4109, or you can use this quick form to send me the question direct. Consultations are free.

Trust me. You can do this and the future can be bright.

Ann Fabrikant, Esq.

Founder, Fabrikant Law
A NJ Family Law & Divorce Firm

Quick Hit Answers

The Divorce Process in NJ

Getting a divorce in NJ might seem like a complicated process. In truth, your divorce will follow a series of steps throughout the process, with each step potentially leading to the next.

Understanding the steps will make the NJ divorce process feel less complicated and more doable.

Qualifying for a NJ Divorce

In order to file for a divorce in NJ, either you or your spouse must have been a resident of New Jersey for the last 12 consecutive months. The only exception to this requirement is if you are filing due to adultery. (New Jersey Statutes Title 2A. Administration of Civil and Criminal Justice 2A § 34-10)

If you do not live in NJ (but your spouse does) you will file for divorce in the county where your spouse lives.

For instance, if your spouse lives in Bergen County, you would file at the Bergen County Justice Center (10 Main St. Hackensack, NJ).

Helpful suggestion: Each county court is staffed by different judges and personnel, so in this case it’s an advantage to be represented by an excellent Bergen County divorce attorney familiar with the Bergen County court. Local knowledge of the court system is a major advantage in your NJ divorce.

Grounds for Divorce in NJ

Once you meet the timeline qualifications (or you are filing for adultery) you need to have grounds for a NJ divorce.

“Grounds for divorce” is a legal term that essentially means the reason for your divorce, and the circumstances under which it can be granted. Remember, a marriage is a “legally binding contract” so the only way to dissolve that contract is to have a court do it. Legal in -> legal out.

Fun fact: In New Jersey, the term ‘divorce’ and ‘dissolution’ may be used interchangeably, though the court prefers ‘dissolution’. For a marriage, they mean the same thing.

So when you go to court and tell them you want to separate from your spouse, “grounds for divorce” is why you want to separate. The ‘why’ you provide must be one of the court-accepted reasons for divorce.

Important Attorney Note: When filing your complaint for divorce, you must choose either “no fault” or “fault” in regards to your spouse’s conduct and the reason for divorce. That said, just because you choose the “fault” option, the divorce process will still hinge on an equitable process.

There are currently 9 accepted reasons for divorce in NJ, which are further described right here.

What is a contested NJ divorce vs. an uncontested NJ 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.

As long as the entire process is fair and friendly, an uncontested divorce can be handled between both people without requiring attorneys. This is, unfortunately, rather rare.

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. Both people may disagree on how to divide the family home, or who will have custody of children, etc.

This is the part of divorce where it is highly recommended to have your own NJ family law attorney representing you and your new future.

Note: A contested divorce becomes uncontested as soon as the parties reach a settlement.

Read more about how an uncontested divorce by default works…

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.

By filing the complaint, you are telling the court you want a divorce, and that makes you the “plaintiff“. No, it does not matter who filed for divorce first, in New Jersey, and it also doesn’t matter who is Plaintiff and who is Defendant. Those terms are merely signifying who filed the case and who responded.

Filing your complaint for divorce is step one of the Seven Common Steps of a New Jersey Divorce.

Seven Common Steps of a New Jersey Divorce

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

Responding to a divorce complaint can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re already dealing with the emotional impact of a marital separation.

The important thing to keep in mind at this point is this: your spouse has started the legal process of ending the marriage. And they have involved the court. That means your available options also involve the court and must follow the court’s requirements.

Let’s look at what you need to do next:

  1. Read Carefully: First, take a deep breath and read the divorce complaint carefully. It contains important information about what your spouse is asking for.
  2. Time Matters: You typically have 35 days to respond to a divorce complaint in New Jersey. Don’t miss this deadline.
  3. Understand Your Options for Response: You have three main choices:

File an Answer: This means you respond to your spouse’s statements in the complaint. You can agree or disagree with the terms or grounds of the divorce that your spouse has presented.

File an Answer and Counterclaim: This allows you to respond to your spouse’s complaint and present your own grounds for divorce or other claims against your spouse. It’s your opportunity to tell your side of the story and introduce any additional issues you want the court to consider.

File an Appearance: By doing this, you acknowledge receipt of the divorce complaint but don’t contest your spouse’s statements. This doesn’t mean agreement, but rather a choice not to argue against it in your response.

  1. Seek Guidance: This part can be tricky. Consulting an experienced NJ divorce lawyer can help you understand your rights and the implications of each response option.
  2. Take Care of Yourself: It’s okay to feel upset or confused. Seek support from friends, family, or a counselor during this time.
  3. Plan Your Next Steps: After understanding your options and deciding your response, it’s time to take action, which might mean filling out legal papers or setting up a meeting with a lawyer.

Remember, each response option has different consequences and should be chosen based on your individual circumstances. If you don’t respond at all, the court may issue a default judgment against you, possibly leading to a decision on terms set by your spouse, including issues like child custody, support, or asset division.

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.

Will I have to go to court for my NJ Divorce?

No one wants to go to court, especially for an already painful process like divorce. And if your divorce can’t be settled outside of court, that’s where it will eventually end up.

Now the good news is, an overwhelming majority of divorces do not go to trial. Between experienced divorce attorneys, mediators, and other resources, many divorces are without trial.

There is good reason for this too. As long as you and your soon-to-be-divorced spouse can negotiate, even if the process is strained, then you have more say in the eventual outcome. After all, it is a negotiation.

NJ Divorce and Children

Divorce all by itself can be emotionally draining and painful. Adding children into the mix opens the door to a whole other realm of things to consider.

Because these topics are so dense, there are self-standing guides to each topic linked below.

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.

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.

Read: Understanding NJ Child Support: What You Need to Know Now and In the Future.

Common NJ Divorce Concerns

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.

or, Finding the Right Divorce Attorney in NJ

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.

Read More: The Cost Of Divorce: With Or Without An Attorney

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. 

NJ Alimony Resources

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.

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