FAQs: New Jersey Divorce Law

So many clients contemplating a divorce have questions about New Jersey divorce laws. Most clients want to know the answers before filing. Often, clients are confused as to what the grounds for divorce are, custody issues, how long it will take, and usually what the financial cost of a divorce will be. Following are some commonly asked questions I hear from clients about New Jersey divorce laws.

1. How long does a New Jersey divorce take?

Well – that depends. If you and your spouse (and your attorneys) are prepared to be reasonable, cases will often finalize much more swiftly than highly contested ones. If there are no children in the case, then the issues become simplified. More complex divorces take more time. Therefore, factors such as the length of the marriage, the number and value of assets, support issues, custody issues, and even premarital agreements can all affect the length of a divorce. New Jersey divorce laws usually require a divorce to be finalized within 12 months from the date the initial complaint is filed. However, the grounds for a New Jersey divorce often carry its own waiting period. When a complaint is filed, that waiting period must already be met.

2. What are the grounds for divorce in New Jersey?

There are two kinds of grounds under New Jersey divorce laws – a no-fault grounds divorce, and fault grounds divorce. A no-fault divorce does not require any kind of period of separation; however, there must be irreconcilable differences which have caused a breakdown of the marriage for at least six months. Usually, these grounds are used when the parties have simply grown apart and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.

In a divorce based on fault, there are 8 potential grounds which can be alleged:

  • Adultery
  • Willful and constant desertion for at least 12 months
  • Extreme mental or physical cruelty which endangers the health or safety of a party, making in unreasonable to continue cohabitation. The last act must have occurred within 3 months of filing the complaint.
  • At least 18 months of uninterrupted separation with no reasonable expectation of reconciliation
  • Voluntarily induced addiction to any narcotic, or habitual drunkenness for at least 12 months.
  • Being institutionalized for a mental illness for at least 24 consecutive months
  • Imprisonment for at least 18 months
  • Deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed by a spouse without consent of the other
3. What do I need to know about filing for divorce?

First, you need to know that divorces can be very complex. You should consider hiring a lawyer with knowledge of New Jersey Divorce Laws to protect your rights.

Before filing, at least one party needs to be living in the state of New Jersey for one year (unless you are alleging adultery). The person initiating the suit is called the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff will serve their Complaint alleging the grounds on the other spouse, called the Defendant. Once the Defendant has been served, they have 35 days to answer and file a counterclaim. Parties must file Case Information Sheets. These documents include the income, expenses, debts, and assets of each party. Courts will use each party's sheet to determine support issues as well as dividing up the party's assets.

4. Do New Jersey divorce laws require the parties to mediate before the case can be finalized?

Not necessarily. The parties are allowed to agree on any and all aspects of their divorce at any time. The Court will hold a Case Management Conference which is mandatory for the parties and their lawyers to attend. Here, the judge will set a discovery time period, including deadlines for all property to be appraised and disclosed. Custody evaluations may be ordered if this is an issue. Finally, if the parties cannot agree on some aspects, the Court will order mediation.

After the discovery period ends, the Court will order everyone to attend a Settlement Panel, which assists the parties in resolving any outstanding financial issues. Note that this does not cover any custody or visitation problems. The Settlement Panel is made up of a few experienced family law attorneys who volunteer their time to listen to the merits of each case. Once each party presents their side, the panel will provide a non-binding recommendation on how the case should be settled.

If the parties still cannot agree, then the parties will be ordered to attend an economic mediation, where a court-approved mediator will provide two hours of their time to settle the case, free of charge. If the parties fail to settle with the mediator, then there will almost always be a mandatory settlement conference with the judge herself before trial. Therefore, mediation is only required if the parties cannot agree. New Jersey courts emphasize on a mutual resolution before having to undertake the time and expense of a full divorce trial.

5. Do I need a lawyer before filing for divorce in New Jersey?

While it is not required for any party to be represented by an attorney, it is highly recommended that you obtain counsel before proceeding. In a divorce, your two most important things are being dealt with – your children and your money. The result of a divorce can have long-lasting effects on your finances and family life. Why leave it to chance?

Making major financial decisions during a divorce or receiving a massive inheritance without consulting an attorney can be disastrous under New Jersey divorce laws. For example, if you receive a significant amount of money from a relative who recently passed, that would be considered your separate property which is not subject to division in a divorce. However, if you commingle (or mix) this money with your community property (like you deposit it in a joint checking account), you run the risk that the property becomes part of the community estate, subject to division by a divorce court.

Family law cases have important timelines, procedural rules, and documents which must be filled out accurately. Any mistake in this regard can have serious consequences for your case – even sometimes causing it to be dismissed. A lawyer who specializes in family law can make sure your case is not jeopardized by simple mistakes.

If you have any more questions about New Jersey divorce laws, contact Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free 30-minute in-office consultation

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