If you want to get divorced in New Jersey, you might not know what to expect during the process. The New Jersey divorce process can be confusing for people who have little experience with the courts and how they work. The state has laws that control the process, and courts also have procedures in place to streamline the steps of getting divorced. Here's an overview of the New Jersey divorce process from the Ziegler Law Group LLC to give you a better idea of what to expect.
1. Before You File for Divorce - Meeting the Residency Requirements
Before filing for a New Jersey divorce, you or your spouse must meet the state's residency requirements. Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-10, you or your spouse must have lived in New Jersey for a minimum of one year before you file a complaint for divorce. If neither of you has been a resident of New Jersey for the required length of time, the court won't have jurisdiction to hear your case.
2. Know the Grounds for a New Jersey Divorce
In New Jersey, you must list the grounds for divorce you are claiming in your divorce complaint. The ground for your divorce is the reason why you are asking for your marriage to be legally terminated. You can either pursue a no-fault divorce or a fault divorce in the state. The ground for a no-fault divorce is irreconcilable differences, which means there has been a breakdown of your marriage to the point it can't be salvaged and that there is not a reasonable belief that you will reconcile. The second no-fault ground for divorce is that you and your spouse have lived separately for 18 or more months.
New Jersey also has the following fault-based grounds for divorce under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2:
- Adultery committed by your spouse
- Abandonment by your spouse for 12 or more months
- Extreme cruelty by your spouse that endangered your health or life
- Habitual drunkenness/drug addiction by your spouse for 12 or more months before you file for divorce
- Commitment to a mental health institution for 24 or more months
- Imprisonment of your spouse for 18 or more months
- Deviant sexual conduct by your spouse against you without consent
While fault grounds are available, most people in New Jersey choose to file for a divorce alleging irreconcilable differences or separation. If you allege a fault ground, you will have the burden of proving your allegations. If you can't prove the fault-based ground, the court won't grant your divorce complaint.
When you choose to file based on irreconcilable differences, you won't have to prove that since it is subjective. If you file for a divorce based on separation from your spouse for 18 or more months, you will only need to prove that you have lived separately for that period.
3. Understand Waiting Periods
If you file for divorce from your spouse based on irreconcilable differences, you will not have to prove that you have lived separately. This means there isn't a waiting period for this type of divorce as long as the irreconcilable differences have lasted for at least six months. If you want to get a no-fault divorce based on separation from your spouse, you will have to wait for 18 months before filing. Because of this difference, many people who want to file for a no-fault divorce opt to file based on irreconcilable differences rather than separation.
4. Hiring a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
While you aren't required to hire a divorce lawyer in New Jersey to get divorced, it's a good idea to secure competent legal representation to help you through the process. A New Jersey divorce attorney at the Ziegler Law Group LLC can help by drafting all of the required documents, explaining the process, and negotiating with your spouse to try to reach a settlement agreement that will protect your rights and interests. The divorce process can be overwhelming for people who try to represent themselves, and mistakes you might make during the process could negatively impact the resolution you achieve.
5. Filing the Complaint and Answer
If you are the party who is seeking a divorce, you will initiate the process by filing a complaint for divorce. You will also need to file a few additional documents together with the complaint, including the following:
- Certificate of verification attached to the complaint in which you assert that all of the claims in your complaint are true
- Certification of insurance attached to the complaint that lists all types of insurance coverage for you, your spouse, and your children
- Certification that you have been notified about alternative dispute resolution procedures
- Case information sheet
- Confidential litigant information sheet if filing for alimony or child support
You should make three copies of each of these documents. The originals will be filed with the court. One copy will be for your records, and the third one will be served on your spouse. Once they are filed, you'll receive a case number that you should write on each of the copies you have made. You will need to serve a copy of the complaint and summons on your spouse. After service is complete, your spouse will have 30 days to file an answer to the complaint. Your spouse can also file a counterclaim with the answer or simply file a notice of appearance.
6. Filing Prejudgment Motions
Once the complaint and answer have been filed, either you or your spouse can file prejudgment motions to ask the court to issue temporary orders while your case is pending. These motions might include motions for pendente lite child support, pendent lite alimony, temporary custody, and temporary parenting time. Prejudgment orders will last until the court enters a final judgment in the case.
7. Case Management Conference and Discovery Deadlines
Once everything has been filed, the court will schedule a case management conference that you and your attorney will need to attend. At this hearing, the court will set discovery deadlines during which you and your spouse will be required to exchange information with each other to resolve your divorce. The court will set deadlines for various types of discovery, including interrogatories, the production of documents, and valuations of real and personal property. If visitation and custody are at issue, the court can also order evaluations of you, your spouse, and your children. The court might also order you and your spouse to attend mediation to try to resolve any custody or visitation disputes.
8. Settlement Panel
Once discovery is over, you and your spouse will need to present your case to a settlement panel made up of two to three matrimonial lawyers. The settlement panel will work to help you resolve any financial and property division issues but will not help with resolving custody or visitation disputes. Instead, custody and visitation disputes will be handled in the custody and visitation mediation mentioned previously. Following the settlement panel meeting, you will receive a recommendation about how to settle your case after the panel reviews the proposals submitted by both lawyers. This recommendation is non-binding but might help you reach an agreement.
9. Economic Mediation
If you and your spouse don't resolve your financial and property division disputes while meeting with the settlement panel, the court will order you to attend economic mediation with a mediator selected from an approved list. At mediation, you will meet with a trained, neutral mediator who will work to facilitate an agreement.
10. Settlement Conference
If you still haven't resolved your outstanding disputes, your case will likely be scheduled for a mandatory settlement conference with the judge before trial. If you don't settle your case at the settlement conference, your case will go to trial before the judge.
11. Divorce Trial
Any outstanding issues that haven't been resolved through agreements will have to be litigated in court at a divorce trial. Your attorney will prepare a brief in which all of the legal arguments will be outlined. You and your spouse can present evidence and call witnesses at trial, and the judge will enter a judgment about all outstanding issues.
Contact a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
At any point during the divorce process, you and your spouse can settle your case through a negotiated agreement. You don't have to go through the entire process to resolve your case. With the help of an experienced divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group LLC, you might be able to reach a full settlement agreement with your spouse without having to take your case to trial. Call us today to request an appointment at 973-878-4373 to learn more about your options.
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