If you believe your marriage is reaching an end, you might be considering filing legal paperwork to dissolve it. Many people may have heard of a ‘dissolution of marriage’ and may be confused about what it is and whether it is different from a traditional divorce. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, you should consult a divorce lawyer in New Jersey for knowledgeable legal advice. The attorneys at Ziegler Law Group, LLC can help you understand marital dissolution and how it might apply in your case.
What is a Dissolution of Marriage in New Jersey?
A dissolution of marriage is a legal end to a marriage. When you receive a dissolution from the court, it means the matrimonial bonds between you and your spouse are severed. You and your spouse will determine how to handle child support, property and debt division, child custody, visitation, and alimony. Once you receive a dissolution, you will be free to marry someone else. The terms dissolution of marriage and divorce are often used interchangeably in New Jersey, but they have the same effect.
Dissolution of Marriage vs Divorce
In the past, a divorce involved pursuing a fault-based end to a marriage. This is because the state used to require one spouse to prove the other engaged in marital misconduct before the courts could dissolve a marriage. However, New Jersey now provides both fault and no-fault divorce processes, and a dissolution of marriage and divorce are now terms that can be used interchangeably.
Some people refer to no-contest divorce cases as dissolution of marriage. A no-fault divorce means that you and your spouse do not allege any fault and instead have simply reached a point at which the differences you have are too great to overcome. Since you don't have to prove marital misconduct to get a no-fault divorce, this process is often a much easier and more amenable solution for people who want to end their marriages.
Legal Separation vs Dissolution
While some states have a separate process for couples to obtain a legal separation, New Jersey doesn't recognize legal separation for married couples. New Jersey does, however, have a statute that allows legal separation for partners in a civil union but doesn't have a similar law for those who are legally married.
In states that have legal separation laws, spouses who agree to separate can file paperwork with the court and go through a similar process as what they would if they were requesting a divorce. The court will divide their assets and debts, issues child custody and child support orders, and determine whether one spouse will pay the other spouse alimony. However, the result is different than a divorce. At the end of a legal separation case, in states in which it is recognized, a couple who is legally separated will still be married. This means they are not single and can't marry other people.
New Jersey does have a type of limited divorce called divorce from bed and board. When a couple files for a divorce from bed and board, the court will make the same types of decisions it would if the couple were instead going through a full divorce and divide the couple's property and debts, make child custody decisions, and order child support and/or spousal support. However, the couple will still be considered to be legally married and unable to remarry others.
Couples who instead want to separate without going through the court process involved with a divorce from bed and board can negotiate an agreement with each other called a separation agreement. In this agreement, they can define how they want all of their assets and debts to be divided, how to co-parent, the amount of child support one spouse will pay the other, and whether the higher-earning spouse will pay the lower-earning spouse alimony.
If they can reach an agreement through mediation or out-of-court negotiations, they can then memorialize it in a separation agreement and sign it in front of a notary public. Once a separation agreement is agreed to and signed by both spouses, it will be a legal contract that is enforceable in court. However, the couple doesn't have to file anything in court to separate under a separation agreement.
A dissolution of marriage differs from a divorce from bed and board or a legal separation agreement. Couples who enter into separation agreements or go to court to obtain a divorce from bed and board will still be legally married once the process is finished. By contrast, couples who obtain a dissolution of their marriage will no longer be married once their case is over.
The Legal Process of Dissolution
Obtaining a divorce or dissolution of a marriage involves taking the following general steps:
- One spouse files the complaint for divorce and serves the paperwork on the other spouse.
- The spouses file the settlement agreement with the court if they have reached one.
- The spouses exchange their financial documents with each other.
- If the couple has children, the parents might attend parenting classes when required by the court.
- The couple files the final paperwork to the court, including the proposed decree.
- The couple attends the final divorce hearing if required.
- The court will send the final order and decree to the parties by mail.
This is the process if the dissolution is uncontested, meaning the parties reach an agreement about all outstanding issues. If your case is contested, there could be additional steps to complete, including motions, motions hearings, depositions, negotiations, settlement conferences, and more. If you don't reach an agreement, you could then have to litigate your case at a divorce trial. An uncontested divorce is much faster because it involves fewer steps, leaving costs low compared to traditional divorce proceedings.
Spousal Support in a Dissolution
In an uncontested divorce in which the spouses negotiate a full settlement agreement, the couple might include an agreement about alimony, including how much will be paid, whether the payments will be made periodically or in a lump sum, or an agreement for the lower-earning spouse to receive a larger portion of the assets in exchange for waiving alimony.
Spousal support or alimony used to be common in New Jersey divorce and dissolution cases. In many cases, a lower-earning spouse could expect to receive alimony for life, as long as they didn't remarry. However, the state reformed the alimony law in 2014 and did away with permanent alimony.
Alimony can now take the following forms:
This is alimony payable with an indeterminate end date that will last until the payor spouse reaches retirement age, the recipient remarries, or the recipient's income begins to exceed the income of the higher-earning spouse. This type of alimony can only be awarded in marriages that have lasted for 20 or more years when there is a substantial disparity between the incomes of the spouses.
This is alimony paid for a pre-determined period to allow the lower-earning spouse time to finish college or a training program so they can become self-sufficient.
The lower-earning spouse can file a request with the court for temporary alimony while the case is pending called pendente lite alimony. This type of alimony lasts until the final divorce decree and is meant to help the dependent spouse make ends meet while the case is pending.
This is alimony ordered to reimburse the lower-earning spouse for contributions they made to allow the higher-earning spouse to pursue a degree and obtain advancement in their career. For example, if the lower-earning spouse worked to support the other spouse while they attended medical school, the court might order reimbursement alimony.
The court might order alimony to be paid by the higher-earning spouse to the recipient for a set period. This is most common in marriages that lasted for less than 20 years and cannot exceed the length of said marriage.
Child Custody and Support in a Dissolution of Marriage in NJ
If the couple shares children and want to pursue an uncontested dissolution, they will need to reach an agreement about child custody and support. This includes agreements about the following issues:
- Parenting time and how often the children will visit each parent
- Legal decision-making authority (sole or shared)
- The child's primary residence for educational purposes
- How holidays, breaks, vacations, and birthdays will be handled
- How exchanges will occur
- Who will pay child support and how much
- How child support will be paid (wage garnishment through the state or directly)
- Who will pay for the child's medical insurance and extracurricular activities
Speak to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
If you want to end your marriage but would like to avoid a bitter conflict in court, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney at Ziegler Law Group, LLC. We can try to resolve the issues in your case outside of court to pursue an uncontested dissolution. Call us today to schedule a consultation at (973) 533-1100.
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