If you have come to the decision to divorce from your spouse, it can feel like a relief – until you realize that there are very specific procedural requirements you must follow in order for your case to proceed. Of course, hiring an attorney who is familiar with the NJ Divorce Process is one way to ensure your divorce goes smoothly. If you want to start the process on your own, then there are a few things you should be aware of throughout the course of your case.
First, you should make sure that either you or your spouse fulfill the residency requirements of New Jersey. The law requires either one of you to be a resident for at least one year before a complaint for divorce can be filed unless the complaint alleges adultery. The next step in the NJ Divorce Process is to file a complaint for divorce. This complaint must be served on the other spouse. The person who files the complaint is the plaintiff, and the person who will be served is called the defendant. The plaintiff must make three copies, with the original being provided to the court, a copy for you, and a copy to serve the defendant.
Once served, the defendant will have 35 days to answer the complaint. The defendant can also file a counterclaim if they have their own claims they wish to assert. They may also merely file an answer, where the defendant can either agree or disagree to the statements lodged by the plaintiff in the original complaint. Finally, they file an appearance, meaning while the defendant does not object to the divorce itself, they may object to some of the specifics of what the plaintiff is requesting, such as support or custody.
Deciding what to include in the complaint for divorce can be confusing for pro se litigants. You must provide the grounds for the divorce or the reasons why your marriage has ended. If you and your spouse have simply parted ways, and you are fairly certain the divorce will be amicable, then ‘irreconcilable differences' is a common option for parties. This is a no-fault divorce, meaning no one is to blame, and you do not have to prove fault. It also relaxes the waiting period, meaning the parties must only be separated for six months. Other grounds will require a finding of fault, meaning the burden of proof is on the complainant. These grounds include adultery, mental or physical cruelty, imprisonment, or even habitual drunkenness or drug use.
There are several other documents that must be filed in the court when following the NJ Divorce Process: the confidential litigant information sheet, which will include sensitive data of the parties and children; the certificate of insurance coverage; and the CDR certification, which indicates that you are aware of the alternative dispute resolution methods that are available to you. Another document that is required is the case information sheet. This document contains each party’s assets, income, expenses and debt – it is crucial and is relied upon by the court to determine support and the division of assets. Parties may also choose to file various prejudgment motions requesting custody, child support or spousal support, or even parenting time.
In divorce cases that involve children, parents must attend a mandatory education program to help parents manage issues of divorce and custody. It encourages communication techniques, co-parenting and transparency for children of the divorce. The program also provides support and resources to parents in need of guidance. Of course, there are exceptions to cases involving domestic violence or abuse.
At some point, the court will set a case management conference, which is mandatory for each party, and their lawyer if applicable. The judge will set a ‘discovery’ time period, and also order miscellaneous items such as custody evaluations or psychological exams, as required. The discovery period is when parties will exchange documents and interrogatories to gather appropriate evidence during litigation.
After discovery has ended, the next step in the NJ divorce process is often an early settlement panel. Litigation is expensive. Family courts in New Jersey encourage parties to attempt to mediate and resolve their issues outside of court whenever possible to defray the financial and temporal costs of divorce litigation. The panel has several experienced family law attorneys who hear the parties’ case on a volunteer basis. Their purview is limited to the financial issues – they will not resolve custody or visitation disputes. After hearing the evidence and the arguments, the panel will issue a nonbinding recommendation, which can be presented to the judge at trial, should the parties be unable to resolve their issues before then.
Before trial, if the parties are still at an impasse, the Court will order the parties to attend economic mediation. The parties will agree on someone from a court-approved list of mediators who will meet with the clients for two hours without charge. After that, the mediator is allowed to charge their standard hourly fee to the parties.
Finally, if the parties are still unable to resolve their differences, there will likely be a mandatory settlement conference with an actual judge before trial. This setting is aimed at resolving all the issues between the parties; however, it also is useful in narrowing down the disputed topics for the judge to decide at trial. For example, if the parties agree on everything in the division of assets except the real property and retirement issues, the judge can agree to hear a trial on these limited issues alone. Additionally, at any point in the NJ divorce process, the court can approve a Final Settlement Agreement between the parties – even on the day of trial.
Once the complaint is filed, the courts of New Jersey have declared that, with few exceptions, no divorce should take longer than 12 months from the date of the complaint. When parties agree to a no-fault divorce and are willing to negotiate and work together to resolve the case, divorces can be finalized sometimes as quickly as two months.
Hiring a competent and experienced attorney can also ensure that the divorce process moves quickly. If you have questions about the NJ divorce process, contact the law firm of Peter Van Aulen for a free initial consultation today, at 201-845-7400.