If you want to end your marriage in New Jersey, you might worry about entering into a bitter and protracted process. Not all divorce cases are contested, and many can be resolved outside of the court process. If you and your spouse can resolve any issues in dispute and negotiate a full agreement or already agree about how all issues should be handled, you can choose to pursue an uncontested divorce. If you are successful in pursuing an uncontested divorce, you can avoid a divorce trial, and the agreement you and your spouse reach will be adopted as the court's final judgment.
While getting an uncontested divorce might sound like the best way to end your marriage, it's not always simple to do. It is common for couples to agree that divorcing is the best choice for them but disagree about aspects of how their assets should be divided, child custody and visitation, or spousal support. If you can't resolve one or more issues in your divorce, your case will be contested and will need to be litigated at a divorce trial. In that situation, the judge will decide how to resolve your outstanding divorce disputes and issue court orders to you and your spouse.
In a divorce, the best scenario is that you and your spouse can reach a full settlement agreement through which all of the issues are resolved before you file a divorce complaint. Being able to do this can reduce some of the stress couples commonly face when they go through a divorce, be less expensive than engaging in a bitter court fight, and involve a much shorter process. While an uncontested divorce might sound ideal, there are some situations in which a contested divorce might be necessary. Here's some information about getting an uncontested divorce in New Jersey.
Types of Divorce in New Jersey
There are a few types of divorce in New Jersey, including fault-based divorce, no-fault divorce, contested divorce, and uncontested divorce. We'll take a look at what each of these categories means below.
Fault-based and No-Fault Divorce
Fault-based and no-fault divorces refer to the reasons why people want to dissolve their marriages. In a fault-based divorce, the complainant alleges a specific reason that is listed in the law for why a divorce should be granted, including adultery, abandonment, cruelty, and others. Fault-based divorces generally require the parties to go to trial to prove the fault of one spouse by presenting evidence.
A no-fault divorce can be filed based on one of the two following reasons:
- You and your spouse have irreconcilable differences that can't reasonably be resolved and that have lasted for at least six months.
- You and your spouse have lived separately for 18 or more months with no reasonable expectation that you will reconcile.
Uncontested divorces are typically filed on one of the two no-fault divorce grounds rather than on a fault ground.
Uncontested and Contested Divorces
An uncontested divorce is one in which the spouses agree on all aspects and issues, including those involving the following:
- How their assets, real property, and debts should be divided
- Whether one spouse will pay the other spouse alimony and how much the payments will be
- How legal and physical custody and visitation of the children will be handled and the parenting plan for the children
- The amount of child support one spouse will pay the other spouse to help raise the children
- Who will be responsible for the children's medical insurance and expenses
If the spouses agree on most but not all of the issues, they can draft a partial settlement agreement for the issues on which they agree and contest only the outstanding issues that remain in dispute. If they don't agree on anything, then all of the issues will be contested. A contested divorce means that one or more issues remain outstanding. Depending on the reasons why there are unresolved issues and the types of disputes involved, some cases can be resolved through alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation.
Process of an Uncontested Divorce in New Jersey
On average, it can take from three to six months to finalize an uncontested divorce. However, your divorce might be shorter or longer, depending on whether you can agree on the details and if you are represented by an experienced divorce lawyer in New Jersey. At the Ziegler Law Group LLC, we can ensure that your documents are accurately completed and filed to help accelerate the process.
1. Negotiating With Your Spouse
If you want to pursue an uncontested divorce, you will need to make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page about all issues involved in your divorce. This includes all details of each issue. In many cases, having the help of a divorce lawyer in New Jersey can help you reach a full agreement with your spouse. If you work out these details before filing, the process can be much faster.
2. Plaintiff Files the Complaint for Divorce
The spouse who files the complaint for divorce and other required documents is called the plaintiff. If you are the filing party, you will need to pay the $300 filing fee and file the documents in court in the county where you live. If you don't live in New Jersey but are filing in the state based on your spouse's residence there, you will file your paperwork in the county where your spouse lives. If you can't afford the filing fee, you can submit an application for a fee waiver. As long as your income and assets meet the criteria, the court will waive the filing fee so that you can file your paperwork.
Once you file your paperwork, you will need to serve them on your spouse. Your spouse can also waive service by signing a waiver in front of a notary public. Your spouse will then need to file a notice of appearance to respond to your complaint instead of an answer. This lets the court know that they are not contesting the divorce. Your spouse will also need to pay a $175 filing fee or apply for a fee waiver if they can't afford it. If your spouse doesn't respond to your complaint, you can file for a divorce by default. In that case, the court will grant the relief you have requested in your complaint and dissolve your marriage.
You will need to file all of the following forms when you want to initiate an uncontested divorce in New Jersey:
- Case information sheet
- Confidential litigant information sheet
- Certification you have received notice of alternative dispute resolution procedures
- Certification as a self-represented litigant if you don't have an attorney
- Certification of the insurance coverage for you, your spouse, and any children
- Certificate verifying the information contained in your complaint
3. Drafting the Settlement Agreement
After all of the required forms and filing fees have been submitted, you and your lawyer will need to prepare a divorce settlement agreement in which all matters involved in your case are outlined. These matters will include how your property, assets, and debts will be divided, whether one of you will pay the other spouse alimony and/or child support, and how visitation and custody of your children will be handled. It can be hard for you to draft a settlement agreement without help because it must include detailed information and be written as a legally binding contract. To be enforceable, you and your spouse will both need to sign the settlement agreement in front of a notary public before you file it with the court.
4. Settlement Agreement Sent to the Judge
Once you file the settlement agreement, the clerk will make sure that your documents are all in order. If they are, your case will be sent to the judge within five days of when you file the agreement. The judge will review your agreement and all of the documents you have filed and will send a judgment to you and your spouse by mail. If any documents are missing, you will receive a notice and must correct the error within 10 days. If you don't, the court might schedule your case for a divorce hearing.
When Might an Uncontested Divorce Not Be Possible?
If you and your spouse can't agree on one or more issues for any reason, an uncontested divorce might not be possible. However, a divorce lawyer in New Jersey might be able to help you secure an agreement through careful negotiations.
There are some situations in which an uncontested divorce might not be a good choice, including the following:
- History of domestic violence between the spouses
- Indications that one spouse might be hiding assets or money from the other spouse
- Drug and alcohol abuse by one spouse in a divorce involving children
When these types of circumstances exist, it might be best to litigate your case through trial rather than try to negotiate with your spouse.
Speak to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
If you think that you and your spouse can reach a full settlement agreement in your divorce, it might still be a good idea to retain an experienced divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group LLC. We can review your case and help to identify any issues that should be addressed and work to negotiate a full agreement with your spouse that is fair. Call us today to request an appointment at (973) 878-4373.
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