So You Want a Divorce...
*Updated August 2023
As a leading family law firm in New Jersey, we understand that navigating the complexities of divorce can be overwhelming. Whether you're considering an uncontested divorce or facing contested proceedings, our expert family law attorneys help you make informed decisions and protect your legal rights. Learn more about the grounds for divorce, child custody and support considerations, alimony, property division, and essential resources for support during this challenging time. At Simon Law Group, LLC, we're committed to providing you with the knowledge and care you deserve to achieve the best possible outcome in your New Jersey divorce.
Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey
When it comes to filing for divorce in New Jersey, it's important to understand the grounds upon which a divorce can be granted. In this section, we'll explore the grounds for divorce in New Jersey, which can be categorized into two main types: no-fault divorce and fault-based divorce.
No-Fault Divorce: In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse is required to prove that the other spouse did something wrong or was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, the no-fault divorce is based on the concept of "irreconcilable differences," meaning that the marriage has irretrievably broken down with no prospect of reconciliation. This is the most common type of divorce in New Jersey.
Irreconcilable Differences: "Irreconcilable differences" refer to significant issues or disagreements between spouses that have led to the irreparable breakdown of the marriage. It can include differences in values, goals, or lifestyles that make it impossible for the couple to continue their marriage together.
Living Apart for a Certain Period: Another form of no-fault divorce in New Jersey is based on the spouses living apart for a specific period, typically at least 18 consecutive months. This separation period demonstrates that the marriage has irreversibly broken down.
Fault-Based Divorce: In a fault-based divorce, one spouse alleges and provides evidence of specific misconduct or wrongdoing by the other spouse. Although fault-based divorces are less common than no-fault divorces, they may still be pursued under certain circumstances.
Adultery: Adultery occurs when one spouse engages in extramarital affairs. If it can be proven that adultery has taken place, it can serve as grounds for a fault-based divorce.
Desertion: Desertion refers to one spouse abandoning the other without any reasonable cause, intention to return, or consent of the other spouse. Desertion can be physical abandonment or emotional abandonment.
Extreme Cruelty: Extreme cruelty includes physical, emotional, or mental abuse that makes it unsafe or intolerable for the spouses to continue living together.
Addiction or Habitual Drunkenness: If one spouse has a substance abuse problem, such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, and it significantly impacts the marriage, it may be cited as grounds for a fault-based divorce.
Imprisonment: If one spouse is convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for a specific period, the other spouse may file for a fault-based divorce based on the grounds of imprisonment.
Institutionalization: Institutionalization refers to one spouse being confined to a mental health institution for a specific period due to mental illness. This can be used as grounds for a fault-based divorce.
Deviant Sexual Conduct: Deviant sexual conduct involves engaging in acts that are considered abnormal or unacceptable by societal standards. If one spouse engages in such behavior, it can be cited as grounds for a fault-based divorce.
New Jersey Residency Requirements (related to Divorce)
One of the critical factors to consider for divorce in New Jersey is meeting the state's residency requirements. Establishing residency is essential, as it determines whether you are eligible to file for divorce in the state. There are two key aspects of New Jersey's residency requirements for divorce.
Establishing Residency in New Jersey
To file for divorce in New Jersey, either you or your spouse must meet the state's residency requirements. Generally, you or your spouse must have been a resident of New Jersey for at least one year before filing for divorce. This means living continuously within the state, making New Jersey your primary residence, and demonstrating your intent to remain in the state for the foreseeable future.
Proving residency may involve providing various forms of documentation, such as utility bills, lease agreements, voter registration, or driver's licenses, which show your New Jersey address and that you have lived in the state for the required duration.
Exceptions to Residency Requirements
While the one-year residency rule is the standard requirement, there are exceptions to consider. If neither you nor your spouse meets the residency criteria, you may still be eligible to file for divorce in New Jersey under certain circumstances:
Dual Residency: If you and your spouse live in separate states but meet the residency requirements for divorce in both states, you may choose to file in New Jersey.
Recent Relocation: If you have recently moved to New Jersey and do not meet the one-year residency requirement yet, but your reasons for relocating are valid (e.g., job relocation, escaping domestic violence), you may petition the court for an exception.
Military Personnel: Members of the U.S. military who are stationed in New Jersey and have established temporary residency may also be exempt from the one-year requirement.
Navigating residency requirements can be complex, and ensuring you meet the necessary criteria is crucial to avoid delays or complications in your divorce proceedings. If you have any questions or concerns about New Jersey's residency requirements or need guidance on your specific situation, the experienced family law attorneys at Simon Law Group, LLC, can provide you with the clarity and support you need to move forward confidently. Our team is dedicated to helping you understand your options and protect your rights throughout the divorce process.
Types of New Jersey Divorce Proceedings
There are two primary types of divorce proceedings in New Jersey: uncontested divorce and contested divorce. Each type comes with its own set of considerations and procedures.
An uncontested divorce occurs when both spouses mutually agree to end their marriage and are in alignment on major divorce-related issues. This type of divorce is generally more straightforward and less time-consuming than a contested divorce.
Advantages and Process
Uncontested divorces offer several advantages, including reduced stress, lower legal costs, and a faster resolution. Since both parties are in agreement, there is no need for lengthy court battles, which can save both time and money.
- Filing a joint petition or complaint for divorce: Both spouses file a joint petition or complaint for divorce, stating their mutual desire to end the marriage amicably.
- Agreement on divorce-related issues: Both parties work together to reach agreements on key divorce matters, such as child custody, child support, alimony, and division of property and debts.
- Drafting a marital settlement agreement: The couple creates a legally binding document called a marital settlement agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of their divorce agreement.
- Court appearance: In some cases, both spouses may need to attend a court hearing where a judge reviews the settlement agreement to ensure it is fair and reasonable.
A contested divorce arises when spouses cannot reach an agreement on one or more critical issues related to the divorce. This type of divorce is often more complex and may require court intervention to resolve disputes.
Reasons for a Contested Divorce
- Disagreements over child custody and visitation arrangements
- Disputes over the division of assets and debts
- Disagreements regarding alimony or spousal support
- Lack of communication or cooperation between spouses
Steps Involved in a Contested Divorce
- Filing a complaint for divorce: One spouse initiates the divorce by filing a complaint with the court, stating the grounds for divorce and the disputed issues.
- Response from the other party: The other spouse must respond to the complaint, either agreeing or disagreeing with the stated grounds and issues.
- Discovery and evidence gathering: Both parties may engage in the discovery process to gather relevant information and evidence to support their claims.
- Mediation and negotiation: In an attempt to resolve disagreements outside of court, the parties may participate in mediation or negotiation sessions.
- Court proceedings and trial: If disputes persist, the case may proceed to court for a judge to make decisions on unresolved issues.
The Divorce Process in New Jersey
There are 7 main steps to the whole divorce process in New Jersey. Keep in mind that every divorce and relationship is unique, the steps detailed below can vary based on unique factors in each divorce case.
Step 1: File a Divorce Complaint/Petition
To begin the divorce process, you would meet with an attorney and review your individual situation. Typically, a review of your financial condition, review potential custody arrangements, child support and alimony as well as other particulars. You would discuss your concerns and learn about the process and establish expectations. Obviously, if there is abuse, you would want to discuss this immediately with your attorney to seek guidance.
Once a plan has been laid out, a Complaint is filed with the Court. The Complaint must be filed in a state court in the county in which at least one of the spouses reside. The Complaint has to include important information regarding the marriage- for example, it names both spouses and any children, and states if there is any separate property or community property, child custody, and child or spousal support. It must also include the grounds for divorce, which can be based on fault or no fault. This complaint is then served on the other spouse. This starts the whole process.
Service of Process
What is a service of process? This is the act in which the divorce Complaint is served upon your spouse. In the case of a mutually agreed-upon divorce, the other spouse (who did not file) has to sign an acknowledgement of the receipt of service. If the spouse does not want to sign or is difficult to locate, a professional process server still is able to perform a skip trace and get him served. In some cases, service by publication may be necessary. That is when all attempts to serve have failed, approval of the court is obtained to publish the complaint for divorce in the newspapers. That would then satisfy the spouses right to be advised (served) with the complaint.
Completing the service process starts the clock running. If the complaint is not answered, you can file for a default, But be careful. Failure to act can cause the court to dismiss a complaint for failure to prosecute. If you want a divorce based on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” you must demonstrate the breakdown of the marriage over a period of at least six months. If you want to file for divorce on the grounds of abandonment,” you must prove your spouse has been out of the picture for at least one year, and so on. Our divorce attorneys will help you to stay on track with these types of timelines.
The service of process also sets automatic stay on the spouse and helps establish the date of separation. At this point, the spouse is not permitted to take any children out of state, sell any property, borrow against property, or borrow or sell insurance held for the other spouse.
Step 2: Appearance/Answer and Counterclaim (Divorce Complaint Response)
There may be some apprehension when it comes to serving the Complaint to your soon to be ex-spouse. Rest assured that Simon Law Group, LLC will make every effort to make sure everything is done properly and respectfully with your wishes in mind.
In this situation the other spouse is known as the respondent or Defendant. Although it's not required, the Defendant can file a response to the Complaint saying that they agree and file what is called an “Answer”. Generally, if a response is not filed within 30 days, the Plaintiff (you) can request that a default be entered by the court. The Defendant can also use this response to disagree with information presented in the Complaint and put forth their own requests and file an Answer and a Counterclaim.
Keep in mind that if they file a Counterclaim, this does not mean they will get what they want. It is important to remain calm at all times.
While the “Answer” simply admits or denies information from the complaint, the Counterclaim can be used to bring attention to an alternative perspective, (some even say an alternate reality) on the relationship and the reason for the divorce. A Counterclaim provides the responding party with an opportunity to make their own allegations about the reason for the divorce. It also gives them a chance to tell the court what they’re asking for in terms of the outcome of the Divorce. The party should make factual statements about the grounds for the divorce and provide information to support that reasoning, but this doesn’t always happen.
Step 3: File a Case Information Statement
Both spouses are required to disclose information regarding their assets, liabilities, income and expenses through the form of a Case Information Statement. Our attorneys will make sure this paperwork is filled out correctly and that it gets submitted on time. If the divorce is uncontested and the spouses can agree on the terms of the divorce, there is only a bit more paperwork to file. This information is used to determine child support, alimony and future monetary contributions, if any.
Some items contained in a CIS are (and there are many):
- Basic Personal Information
- Birth date
- Date of Marriage
- Employer Information
- Income Information
- Monthly expenses i.e., food
- Liabilities i.e., loans, mortgages
- Life Insurance
Step 4: Settlement Agreement/Early Settlement Panel
The spouses may try to come to an agreement either before or after the filing of the divorce Complaint. If a settlement agreement cannot be reached, and the Complaint and a responsive pleading have been filed, the parties will have to participate in an Early Settlement Panel directed by the Judge. This panel will discuss the legal issues involved in the divorce and will recommend how to resolve those issues. If the parties accept the recommendations and agree to be bound by them, the court will ultimately grant you a divorce. If the parties do not accept the recommendations or come to an agreement, they will proceed to Step 5...
Step 5: Economic Mediation
An Economic Mediation, following an unsuccessful Early Settlement Panel, is the mandatory next step and takes place prior to a trial of the New Jersey divorce case. The respective lawyers in the case review a list of court-approved Economic Mediators (experienced NJ Divorce lawyers) and select one for the mediation. Both sides submit an Economic Statement with their respective opinions and then the mediation session begins.
The first session often starts with the mediator discussing the process to everyone. Then, the mediator will speak with the attorneys alone in order to get a feeling for what the most contentious issues are as well as the ones that can be easily handled. The parties will then discuss these matters and attempt to come to an agreement.
If a settlement is reached, the mediator and the attorneys will draft a Memorandum of Understanding. This document will be signed by both parties and their respective divorce lawyers. It will confirm that the parties have an agreement with respect to all (at least all major) issues. This is essential as a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision confirmed that any settlement agreement, which was reached at economic mediation, must be written up and signed at the time of mediation. Otherwise, the settlement is not considered enforceable going forward.
Step 6: Intensive Settlement Conference
If the Economic Mediation does not result in an agreement, then the parties will be required to attend an Intensive Settlement Conference in the courthouse and try once again to settle before taking the case to trial.
Remember, this is a process, each divorce is different, your family law attorney is there to support you and help you get your best possible outcome.
Step 7: Divorce Trial
Finally, if an agreement cannot be reached through these various levels of mediation, a trial will occur. A divorce trial is usually held in front of a judge, sometimes a jury(though this has changed some since COVID times). During the trial, both sides will present evidence and call witnesses to support their claims on issues like division of assets, child custody, spousal and child support and other related matters. The court will then consider all of the evidence and information provided and render a final & binding decision that both parties must adhere to moving forward. Finally, a Final Divorce Decree is issued. If either party does not comply with this decree, they can face serious legal repercussions.
New Jersey Final Divorce Decree
A final divorce decree is a court order that officially terminates a marriage. It is also commonly referred to as a "Final Judgment of Divorce" or simply "Divorce Decree." This decree is issued by a judge after all the legal requirements and procedures of the divorce process have been completed. The final divorce decree includes essential information and decisions regarding the divorce, such as:
- Dissolution of Marriage
- Division of Marital Property
- Child Custody and Parenting Arrangements
- Child Support
- Alimony or Spousal Support
- Name Change
- Other Terms and Conditions
Once the judge signs the final divorce decree, it becomes legally binding, and both parties are required to comply with its terms. It is essential to review the decree carefully and ensure that all the agreed-upon terms are accurately reflected before it is finalized. If any issues arise after the divorce is finalized, modifications to the decree may be possible under certain circumstances. However, any changes must be made through a formal legal process and approved by the court.
New Jersey Child Custody and Support
Child custody and support are critical aspects of divorce proceedings that require careful consideration to ensure the well-being of the children involved. In New Jersey, child custody can be established through various arrangements, including joint custody, sole custody, or shared custody, depending on the best interests of the child. When making custody determinations, courts consider several factors, such as the child's age, health, and relationship with each parent.
Child support guidelines are also established to ensure that both parents contribute financially to the child's upbringing, taking into account factors like each parent's income and the child's needs. In the event of significant changes in circumstances, custody and support orders may be modified to better suit the child's evolving needs and the parents' situations. At Simon Law Group, LLC, we prioritize the welfare of your children and are committed to advocating for custody and support arrangements that promote their happiness and stability. Our compassionate family law attorneys are here to provide you with personalized guidance and legal support throughout the child custody and support process.
Division of Marital Property in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the division of marital property during a divorce follows the principle of equitable distribution. This means that marital assets and debts are divided fairly, though not necessarily equally, between the spouses. To initiate the process, it's essential to identify what qualifies as marital property, (assets acquired during the marriage) subject to division, while separate property, (assets acquired before the marriage or through inheritance) generally remains with the individual who owns it. Assigning a value to the assets and debts is a crucial step in the division process, and it may require the assistance of financial experts.
Negotiating the division of property amicably is often the preferred approach, but in cases where agreements cannot be reached, the matter may be resolved through litigation. At Simon Law Group, LLC, our experienced family law attorneys are skilled in handling property division matters and are dedicated to securing a fair and reasonable distribution of assets to protect your financial future.
Alimony and Spousal Support in New Jersey
Alimony, also known as spousal support, is an essential aspect of divorce proceedings in New Jersey, intended to provide financial assistance to a dependent spouse after the marriage ends. There are different types of alimony that may be awarded, including rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, limited duration alimony, and permanent alimony. When determining alimony, the court takes various factors into account, such as the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, each spouse's financial contributions, and their respective earning capacities. The duration of alimony payments depends on the circumstances of the case, with some alimony awards being modifiable based on significant life changes. Experienced family law attorneys strive to secure fair and just alimony arrangements that support your financial stability during and after the divorce process, ensuring a smoother transition into your post-divorce life.
Find additional information on Divorce and related matters such as child custody, parenting time and domestic violence on our site.
If you are considering a divorce, or have been served with divorce papers in New Jersey, contact Simon Law Group, LLC to get the support and legal advice you need (email at firstname.lastname@example.org & telephone at 800-709-1131). We are here to help you through this process and put your mind at ease. Our experienced family law attorneys are dedicated to providing you with personalized attention and compassionate support, guiding you towards the best possible outcome for your New Jersey divorce. Let us be your trusted partners in this journey.
*Please note: The contents of this article are not, nor are they intended to be, legal advice. The contents of this website are intended to provide general information only. You should always consult an attorney for advice regarding your legal matter.