Steps to Divorce: Understanding the Process of a NJ Divorce
Once you have made the difficult decision to officially separate from your spouse, figuring out how to do it can be overwhelming and confusing. Reading about the basic steps to divorce can be a great way to achieve a baseline understanding of everything that is involved in a NJ divorce.
The first thing that needs to happen in a New Jersey divorce is a complaint must be filed with the court. The first spouse who files will be called the plaintiff. The document being filed must include some basic information about both parties, including their names and addresses, the date and place of marriage, and the grounds for divorce. If you and your spouse have simply stopped getting along and grew apart, then you might consider filing a ‘no-fault' divorce. Otherwise, if there are other factors in place, such as adultery or abuse, then a ‘fault' divorce might be the best option. If you are unsure about what grounds apply to your case, then you should seek out the advice of a competent, New Jersey divorce lawyer.
In a NJ divorce the complaint will then be served on the other spouse, who will be called the Defendant. You cannot effect service of process on your spouse yourself, but you can hire a professional process server or the county sheriff, who will personally deliver the papers to your spouse. Then an affidavit of service needs to be filed with the court to prove that your spouse has been served. If you and your spouse are on good terms, then service might not be necessary at all if you can agree to sign an acknowledgment of service without formal process.
The Defendant spouse will have 35 days to respond after they have been served and will need to file one of several different kinds of responses. They will usually file an answer, and then bring any counterclaims they may want to present to the court. In some cases, a spouse may decide not to respond at all. If the Defendant spouse does not answer the complaint within 35 days of getting served, then the Plaintiff must file a Request to Enter Default along with an Affidavit of Non-military service and Proof of Service of the Summons and Complaint with the court. A date will be set for a hearing on a default divorce. A Notice of Proposed Final Judgement of Divorce outlining custody issues, support, and the proposed property division must be served on the defendant along with a Case Information Statement. The Notice of Proposed Final Judgement of Divorce must state the date, time and location of the hearing date. Also, the Noticed of Proposed Judgment and Case Information Statement needs to be filed with the court. Said notice must be served 20 days prior to the final hearing, and proof of service must be presented to the court before a divorce can be granted. Failure to follow all the requirements can result in the court denying the relief you seek in your divorce. Therefore, he or she should seek the assistance of a NJ Divorce Lawyer or at least review New Jersey Court Rule 5:5-10 to get all the requirements.
In the event the spouse does respond, then once both parties have filed their respective documents with the court, they will need to fill out more paperwork. The Case Information Sheet is one of the most important documents in a divorce. It includes all the pertinent financial information about the parties so the judge can decide about various issues, including financial support, child support, and equitable distribution.
In some cases, the next steps to divorce will be pretrial motions requesting temporary relief. Usually, this involves pendente list (or temporary) child and spousal support. If children are involved, there might be an initial custody determination and establishment of a parenting time schedule. These kinds of motions can be particularly helpful if parents are not getting along and there is no schedule or routine in place for the child.
The next period of a NJ Divorce involves the court encouraging settlement. The judge will hold a Case Management Conference. Both parties and attorneys will attend. At this conference, the judge sets out important timelines for discovery, depositions, appraisals, and evaluations. If custody or parenting time is an issue, the court will Order the parties to attend Custody and Parenting Time Mediation. Once these steps have been completed, then the parties will participate in the Early Settlement Panel. The Panel is comprised of family lawyers who volunteer their time to discuss the various legal issues in the case. They will make a recommendation as to how to resolve those issues, but the parties do not have to accept them. There will be several other chances for the parties to officially mediate to settle, including an Economic Mediation, and an Intensive Settlement Conference. Usually, the parties can at least agree to some of the issues, such as child custody or dissolution of property. This at least helps to narrow down the issues for the court in the event of a trial.
If, after all these attempts, the parties are still unable to come to a resolution, then they will proceed to trial. A Trial is not encouraged in family courts. Preparing for trial in a New Jersey divorce is time-consuming and expensive. It can be extremely stressful and is an adversarial procedure, which is not ideal for families. As a party, it can be an inappropriate road to take because you concede control over the decision for your life and family to another person, albeit a judge. However, there are some cases when a trial might be appropriate, such as if the other party is unreasonable or abusive, and settlement is an impossibility.
Parties must prepare a legal brief which outlines all their arguments for the judge. The judge will consider these, as well as testimony, evidence, expert witness opinions, and various other reports as necessary. He or she will then enter a Final Judgment of Divorce, which should address custody, visitation, dissolution of property and division of assets, as well as any support issues.
If you have made the decision to dissolve your marriage and need to talk to an expert about the steps to divorce in New Jersey, contact the Law Office of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation today, at 201–845–7400.