People who have never been divorced might imagine that they will need to engage in drawn-out and bitter litigation to end their marriages. However, couples can negotiate partial or full settlement agreements for the outstanding issues involved in their divorce cases before engaging in litigation. Couples that reach full agreements won't need to worry about going to a divorce trial. Those who can reach partial agreements can limit the issues the court will decide on at a trial. In addition to the traditional divorce process, there are alternative ways to resolve the outstanding issues in a divorce. Here is some information about the different types of divorce in New Jersey and some alternatives from an NJ divorce attorney at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC.
Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
When a spouse files for divorce, they can choose to pursue either a no-fault or fault ground to start the case. People might choose to pursue fault grounds when they want to hold their spouses accountable for misconduct during the marriage. However, pursuing a fault ground also means the spouse will need to present evidence proving fault.
For this reason, most people pursue no-fault divorces in New Jersey. They can either choose to assert no-fault as the ground for their divorce based on living separately from their spouse for 18 or more months or assert irreconcilable differences that have existed for six or more months. While a couple might go through no-fault divorce, that doesn't mean that it won't be a contested divorce.
A contested divorce occurs when the spouses can't agree on one or more terms of their case. If the couple can't resolve the outstanding issues, they will need to proceed to litigation and go through a divorce trial. Some examples of issues that might need to be litigated in a contested divorce include the following:
- Disagreement over parenting time for the couple's children
- Dispute over who should be granted legal decision-making authority over the child's religious upbringing, education, or medical care
- Disagreement about a spouse's request for alimony
- Dispute over the classification of property as marital or separate
- Disagreement about the validity of a prenuptial agreement
- Dispute over how to handle the marital home
- Disagreement about how to divide other marital assets
- Dispute about which spouse should be responsible for paying the debts acquired during the marriage
Some couples can reach a partial settlement agreement that resolves most of the issues, but they may have one or more issues that they can't agree on. In that situation, only the disputed issues will need to be decided at a divorce trial by the judge.
Whenever a couple can't resolve some or all of the issues involved in their case, they will go through a contested divorce. A family court judge will be assigned to hear the case and issue orders about how the property will be divided, child custody, alimony, and child support.
In most cases, couples are happier with the outcomes of their divorces when they reach settlement agreements rather than litigating the matter through a divorce trial. Leaving the decisions up to a judge who doesn't personally know either party or their family means that the spouses might both be unhappy with the outcome. Contested divorces also typically take much longer to resolve than uncontested divorces. Since they might involve numerous court hearings and motions, contested divorces also can quickly become expensive for divorcing couples. However, there are certain situations in which a contested divorce might be necessary, including when one spouse has concealed assets or when there is a history of spousal or child abuse.
An uncontested divorce in New Jersey occurs when the spouses agree on all of the terms of the case. These types of divorces are no-fault divorce cases in which neither spouse wants to pursue fault causes of action. To get an uncontested divorce, both spouses must also agree on all of the other terms of their divorce, including property division, child support, child custody, alimony, and others.
The spouses can draft a settlement agreement and sign it in front of a notary public. One spouse can then file a complaint for divorce, and the other spouse can file a notice of appearance in response. The notice of appearance lets the court know that the divorce is uncontested. The spouses can then file the separation agreement with the court, and the judge will issue the divorce decree and incorporate the terms of the agreement.
Alternatives to Traditional Divorce
Traditional divorces can be expensive and time-consuming. Divorce litigation might also not be the best way to resolve a divorce for the spouses. In many cases, couples who go through traditional divorces are unhappy with the outcome. Fortunately, some alternative dispute resolution methods can be used by couples to try to reach an agreement or have their outstanding issues resolved outside of court.
Arbitration is an out-of-court process through which a third-party arbitrator makes the decisions. While it is held outside of court in front of a neutral arbitrator or group, it shares some similarities to a divorce trial. The spouses will present evidence, and the arbitrator will then make the decisions. Divorce arbitration is less formal than a divorce trial, but the decisions made by the arbitrator are legally binding.
Divorce mediation is a process held outside of court. The couple will meet with a neutral mediator who has been trained to facilitate agreements. Each spouse can attend divorce mediation with their attorney. Unlike arbitration, divorce mediation is nonbinding. The mediator doesn't make decisions for the couple but works to help them reach an agreement that resolves their outstanding issues. If a couple reaches a mediated settlement agreement, it can be memorialized in writing and filed with the court. Mediation might be ordered by the court in a contested divorce before it goes to trial. Couples can also choose to go through private mediation to resolve their issues before filing a complaint for divorce. Mediation is confidential and can be a great way for couples to reach an agreement and simplify the divorce process.
Collaborative divorce involves the parties meeting together with their lawyers and other professionals to resolve issues without the intervention of the court. The spouses, their lawyers, and other professionals all work together to try to resolve outstanding issues. If an agreement is reached, it can be filed with the court. If an agreement is not reached, the attorneys for each spouse will withdraw from representation. The spouses will then need to retain new lawyers to litigate their divorce.
Benefits of Alternatives to Traditional Divorce
Alternative dispute resolution methods offer the following benefits as compared to traditional divorce:
- Less expensive
- Faster process
- Confidential process
- Couple might be happier with the outcome
Talk to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
If you are planning to divorce your spouse in Essex County NJ, you should reach out to the experienced family law team at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC. We can help you understand your options and the approach that might work best for your situation. Call us at (973) 878-4373 to schedule a consultation.
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