Length of Divorce
Getting married in New Jersey can happen quickly. A couple must only wait 72 hours after obtaining a marriage license before exchanging vows. Untying the knot often proves to be a vastly different proposition. How long does a divorce take in NJ? The answer depends on the grounds alleged for divorce, whether issues are contested, court procedures and cooperation of the spouses.
Completion in two to three months may be possible when spouses agree on all issues at the time the divorce is filed. Six to eight months is more realistic when there are disputed issues that can possibly be resolved. For the most contentious divorces, 12-24 months may be necessary.Requirements and Grounds
There is no specific waiting period in New Jersey to finalize a divorce once papers are filed and served. However, filing requirements, the grounds for the divorce and court procedures all impact how quickly a marriage can be terminated. As an initial consideration, one spouse must have lived in NJ for at least 12 months to file for divorce in the state unless there is adultery.
New Jersey law provides for both fault and no-fault divorce. In a fault divorce, one spouse claims the other's behavior is the cause for ending the marriage. There are 12 fault-based grounds some of which require the negative behavior to occur over an extended period before filing for divorce.
For example, if a spouse bases divorce on desertion by or addiction of the other spouse, the abandonment or addiction must have occurred for at least 12 months prior to filing. If divorce is based on a claim that a spouse has been institutionalized for mental illness, a 24-month period of institutionalization is required.
For a no-fault divorce, neither spouse must prove the other acted badly. There are two no-fault grounds. Separation may support divorce, but spouses must have lived in separate residences for 18 months. The more common ground of irreconcilable differences only requires that there have unresolvable difficulties in the marriage for six months without the requirement of living apart. A fault divorce usually requires extended time to resolve due, in part, to the time period of bad behavior required before filing and because the spouse being accused of bad acts will likely be reluctant to agree or quickly settle.How Long Does a Divorce Take When Issues are Uncontested?
When all matters are agreed upon including property and debt distribution, alimony, child custody, visitation and spousal support, a divorce is deemed uncontested and will generally be resolved quickly. A divorce may be uncontested from day one or, if initial disputes are ultimately resolved, a contested divorce can become uncontested any time before trial.
Short term marriages without children are the most likely to be uncontested as there is usually little over which to argue. Even when children or property are involved, cooperative spouses who can communicate honestly and work to reach agreement on all issues before filing papers may be able to accomplish divorce in as little as two months, although it may be more realistic to allow twice that time.
If the divorce will truly be uncontested, one spouse can file the initial paperwork. The other spouse can voluntarily accept service of papers the same day and file an Acknowledgment of Service with the court. There is no need for the served spouse to further respond to the paperwork if there is a signed Settlement Agreement. After 35 days have passed, the spouse who initiated the divorce can request a hearing date for a default judgment. The other spouse must be notified of the date at least 20 days before the default hearing.
The parties should prepare a written Settlement Agreement outlining how all issues have been resolved. A proposed final order incorporating the Agreement must also be drafted for the court's review. One or both spouses will attend the court hearing at which a judge will ask some basic questions. If all appears in order, the final paperwork will be signed and the divorce will be granted.How Long Does a Divorce Take When Issues are Contested?
A divorce is classified as contested if any issue is disputed. After both spouses have filed initial paperwork, the court will set a date for a case management conference. At the conference, the judge and parties will determine what issues remain in dispute and the time required for each party to obtain desired information via the discovery process.
If it appears all issues have been resolved, the judge can fast track the case for completion. If matters remain in conflict, the judge will set deadlines for parties to acquire information via discovery and may set a date for a second conference or trial. Discovery allows either party to take depositions, request documents and present an extensive set of questions called interrogatories that the other spouse must answer. This process can easily add several months to the divorce timeline. Complex issues such as establishing the value of a business, retirement account or pension often require specialized services which also can extend the divorce process.
The judge can refer the parties to an Early Settlement Panel (ESP). An ESP is when the parties with their attorneys appear in front of 2 to 3 experienced divorce lawyers which will review submissions by the parties’ attorneys, hear their positions and give a non-binding suggestion of how to settle the case.
The court also has the authority to require spouses to attend mediation for either custody or economic issues that remain in dispute. The mediation process, by necessity, increases the time needed to finalize the divorce. If issues remain unresolved after mediation, you are likely looking at the high end of the timeline for completing the divorce.
The New Jersey court system has set a goal to resolve divorces within 12 months of filing. Many will conclude more quickly by agreed settlement while the most contentious divorces may still require up to 24 months. Planning for divorce with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney can often speed the process. Wanting to complete the divorce quickly is understandable, but taking the necessary time to protect your interests and create a stable foundation for the future is often the best course. If you have any questions about a divorce in NJ, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 today for a free initial consultation.