If you want to end your marriage, it's important to understand the laws and process before filing. It's also important to take specific steps before you tell your spouse you want a divorce or file the paperwork. Here's what a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC believes you should know about divorce cases and the steps to take before you file.
Divorce Causes of Action in New Jersey
While there are fault-based divorces in New Jersey, you don't have to allege fault grounds to get a divorce. Most people instead choose to pursue divorce by asserting irreconcilable differences. Doing so allows you to get divorced without having to prove fault on the part of your spouse. You can get a divorce based on irreconcilable differences by certifying that they have existed for a minimum of six months and that you no longer want to be married.
Some people think they need to file based on fault grounds to try to hold their spouses accountable for adultery or other misconduct. However, claiming a fault ground rarely provides you with a greater benefit and will simply require you to prove more.
Residency and Venue
To file for divorce in New Jersey, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for a minimum of 12 consecutive months. This doesn't mean that you or your spouse must have lived at the same address in New Jersey for 12 months. You or your spouse can have moved to new addresses within the state during that year.
Venue refers to the court that has jurisdiction to hear your divorce case. This is the county in which you or your spouse lives in New Jersey.
Your marital property will be divided in your divorce. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means that your marital property and debts will be divided fairly. This does not mean that the division will be equal. Only your marital property and debts will be divided. Property determined to be the separate property of you or your spouse will not be divided.
Marital property and debts generally include everything you and your spouse have acquired during your marriage. Separate property includes any property you owned before getting married and inheritances. However, your separate property can lose its separate nature if it has been commingled with your marital property. If you and your spouse can reach a settlement agreement for how your property should be divided, the court will accept it as long as it is not unconscionable.
Many people think that alimony is always permanent, but that is not true. There are four different types of alimony in New Jersey, including limited duration, reimbursement, rehabilitative, and open-duration alimony. Limited duration is the most common type. Open-duration alimony is only been available to people whose marriages have lasted for 20 or more years unless extraordinary circumstances apply.
Limited-duration alimony can only be awarded for periods no longer than the length of the marriage. For example, if a couple was married for 10 years, the court might award the lower-earning spouse alimony for a maximum of 10 years.
Rehabilitative alimony might be ordered to help a spouse obtain the training or education needed to become financially self-sufficient. Finally, reimbursement alimony might be awarded to a spouse who made significant contributions to further their spouse's career while foregoing their own opportunities.
Finally, alimony is not automatically ordered just because a spouse requests it. Instead, the court will consider multiple factors when deciding whether to grant a request for alimony.
Child Custody and Support
If you have children, you likely are concerned about how custody and support will be handled. Courts generally favor shared residential custody arrangements through which the children enjoy liberal time with both parents. Supervised visitation might be ordered if the child would be in danger if their visits with a parent were unsupervised. Child custody also involves decisions about whether one or both parents will have legal decision-making authority over the child's education, health, and religious upbringing.
New Jersey has child support guidelines that serve as guidance for how much support will have to be paid. These guidelines take into account the gross incomes of both parents, how many nights the children have with each parent, any health insurance provided for the children by one parent, and other factors. While most couples stick to the guidelines, some parties might agree to deviate from them.
Preparing for a Divorce
Before you tell your spouse you want to get divorced, it's a good idea to take the following steps:
1. Organize Your Finances and Gather Documents
It's a good idea to gather all of your financial documents before you tell your spouse you want to get divorced or file the divorce paperwork. It will be much easier to gather the documents before filing than it might be to request copies from your spouse later. Gather copies of the following documents:
- Income tax returns
- Paystubs for both you and your spouse
- Bank account statements
- Investment account statements
- Retirement account statements
- Recent credit reports
- Recent bill statements
- Copies of property deeds and titles
- Inventory of assets and debts
Store your copies outside of your home in a safe place until you are ready to file.
2. Open Separate Checking and Savings Accounts
Maybe in some cases you may need to open a bank account in your name only and make arrangements for your paychecks from your job to be directly deposited into that account. Review the status of your joint accounts. Your spouse might make withdrawals from joint accounts as soon as she/he learns you are planning to divorce. Make sure to have a separate savings account for your emergency funds in case your divorce takes longer than you expect.
3. Open a P.O. Box
If you are going to continue living with your spouse during the divorce process, you should open a P.O. box to receive correspondence from your attorney about your divorce. You won't want your lawyer mailing documents or letters to you at your home.
4. Review Your Beneficiaries
Some people overlook the beneficiaries they have listed on their life insurance policies and retirement accounts. They might also have their spouses listed in their wills or named as their agents in their powers of attorney. It's a good idea to review these types of documents and make changes to your beneficiaries as needed. If something happens to you later, making sure you have updated all of these documents can prevent unintended consequences.
4. Close Joint Credit Cards if Possible
If you have joint debts with your spouse, it's a good idea to pay them off if possible. Even though the court might order your spouse to pay some of these debts, the creditors can still come after you if your spouse fails to pay. Try to get your name off of joint credit cards. If your spouse has a secondary card based on your primary credit card, cancel it.
5. Identify Your Separate Property
Identify any property and assets that you owned before your marriage. Gather evidence of their separate nature, including receipts, titles, deeds, and others showing they are your separate property.
6. Meet With a Financial Advisor
It's a good idea to meet with a financial advisor before you file for divorce. An advisor can help you plan a post-divorce budget and identify any lifestyle changes you might need to make. The advisor you choose should not be one that you share with your spouse but should instead be someone new at a different firm. Your NJ divorce attorney at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC can work with your financial advisor to protect your financial interests.
7. Change Your Passwords
Change all of your passwords to new ones that your spouse can't guess. This includes changing the passwords for your social media accounts, financial accounts, email, and others.
Speak with an NJ Divorce Attorney
If you are thinking about getting divorced, you should consult an experienced attorney at the Ziegler Law Group, LLC. Our attorneys are experienced and knowledgeable, and we can help you understand the process and what to expect. Call us at (973) 878-4373 to schedule a consultation.
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