Does it Matter Who Files First in Divorce NJ?

Does it Matter Who Files First in Divorce NJ?
When people are considering getting a divorce in New Jersey, they sometimes wonder whether they should file first or wait to see if their spouses file divorce paperwork. While there shouldn't be an advantage to filing first, there are a few benefits to being the first person to file divorce paperwork. However, if you are the spouse who is served divorce paperwork that your spouse has filed, you won't be penalized for not being the first party to file. Instead, the potential advantages of filing first involve having more time to prepare and other benefits. Here's some information from the Ziegler Law Group about why filing for divorce first might give you a slight edge during your case.

Having the First Choice of Lawyers and Experts

If you haven't talked to your spouse about ending your marriage, you will likely be able to have your choice of attorneys to handle your case. Once a divorce lawyer in New Jersey consults with someone about their potential divorce, that attorney can't turn around and represent the other party if you decide to choose someone else because of conflict of interest ethics rules. This doesn't mean that you should schedule consultations with as many lawyers as possible to prevent your spouse from getting representation, however.

Similarly, if your divorce will involve substantial assets or child custody disputes, you might need experts for your case. When you file first, you can interview and find the experts you might need to support your arguments. By contrast, if you don't file first and instead wait until you are served with the paperwork your spouse has filed, you will have just 35 days to find a lawyer, pay their retainer, and file your response.

Having an attorney hired before you file means that you will have already discussed the major issues in your divorce and how to approach them, and you might have also already been referred to qualified experts.

Having Time to Save for Legal Fees and Expenses

If you know that you want to end your marriage and are prepared to wait to file, you can spend several months saving money for your attorney's fees and expenses. If you have time, figure out your daily living expenses and create a budget to follow during the divorce process. Open an account in your name only and set aside money to save up for your divorce, attorney's fees, and living expenses. Doing this can help you get a head start once you file your paperwork.

Avoiding Emotional Conflict

Avoiding Emotional Conflict

Divorces involve negative emotions and can be difficult for everyone involved. When you plan, you can help to minimize emotional conflict and take a more objective view of the issues that need to be addressed. An attorney can help you set aside negative emotions and view the issues involved in your divorce logically so that you are less likely to make emotional decisions that could increase the conflict and turn the process into a lengthy, bitter battle.

Gathering Your Documents in Advance

After a divorce is filed, it can be hard to get copies of all of the documents you need. While your spouse will be ordered to give you copies of your financial documents, the process of trying to get everything can take months. It is much better to gather the following documents in advance of filing and store them in a safe place away from your house:
  • Income tax returns for the last two years
  • W-2s for the last two years
  • Bank account statements for the last 12 months
  • Most recent retirement accounts for both you and your spouse
  • Proof of insurance (life and health)
  • Property deeds
  • Titles to vehicles
  • Most recent statements from all credit cards and other bills
  • Vehicle registrations
  • Wills or trust documents
  • Current credit reports

If you file first, you can take the time to get copies of all relevant financial and legal documents and store them away to avoid problems with obtaining copies after you file.

Controlling the Timing

Once your paperwork is filed, the court will set hearings, timelines for discovery, and other deadlines in your case. If you file first, you can have some control over when these different events will occur and choose to file your documents at a time when the process will be the least disruptive for you and your children. For example, timing your paperwork for when your children are out of school and delaying large purchases can be good reasons to time when you file your initial divorce paperwork.

Having Time to Meet With a Financial Adviser

If you know that you will file for divorce within the next six months, you can take some time to meet with a financial adviser to gain a better understanding of how your divorce will impact your finances. The adviser you choose should not be one you already share with your spouse or work in the same firm. Instead, see someone new and explain that you will be filing for divorce and would like some help understanding the financial impact and creating a budget for your life during and after your divorce. This can help you live within your means and prevent potential mistakes that could place you in a bad financial situation.

Preventing Your Spouse From Hiding Assets

If you think that your spouse might try to hide assets once they learn that you plan to end your marriage, planning can help to prevent this problem. Your attorney can help you locate and identify assets before you file, and you can file a motion for a temporary restraining order with your divorce paperwork to prevent your spouse from dissipating assets.

Choosing Where to File

If you and your spouse are currently living in different counties, filing first can give you the choice of where to file. Filing in your county can help to reduce the expenses and time involved with traveling to court in the county where your spouse lives. If you plan to name a specific ground for divorce, however, you will need to file in the county where the behavior underlying that ground occurred. For example, if your spouse committed adultery in your former county, you would need to file in that county instead of your new one. This is a good reason to opt for filing based on irreconcilable differences in your new county rather than pursuing a fault-based divorce in your spouse's county.

What to Look for in a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey

While there are benefits to filing first and planning for divorce before you file, the most important thing you should do is find the right divorce lawyer in New Jersey to handle your case. Here are some things to consider when you are interviewing prospective attorneys.

The Law Firm's Experience Handling Divorce Cases

Many law firms claim to specialize in family law, which should be a good starting point when you are searching for a good divorce attorney. However, you will want to know if the attorney you hire has experience handling cases with similar fact patterns as yours. Ask potential lawyers about how many years they have practiced family law and whether they have handled cases similar to yours.

The Plan the Attorney Outlines for Your Case

When you meet with an attorney for a consultation, the lawyer should provide you with some information about how your case will proceed and what would be required from you if you retain them. Your attorney should provide you with potential outcomes that include the best and worst scenarios that might occur. They should also be able to provide you with an estimate of how long your case might take. A good attorney should be realistic and honest without engaging in salesmanship or providing guarantees of the outcomes you will achieve.

Who Will Work on Your Case?

Whenever you consult a lawyer, you will want to find out who will be working on your case. Ask to meet any paralegals or other members of the firm's practice who will be involved. At a minimum, ask about the experience each has and their suitability for working on your case.

Fee Structure and Billing Arrangements

A prospective lawyer should explain the firm's fee structure and how you will be billed. There are various ways that divorce lawyers bill for their services. Ask whether they operate off an up-front retainer and how they bill if the retainer is used up. If you will be billed by the hour, ask about the rate and whether you will be charged for phone calls and emails. Ask if the lawyer bills in increments per hour and how they track the time spent on your case. All of the firm's billing arrangements and fees should be clearly outlined in a written fee agreement so that you understand exactly what you will be getting into. However, your attorney will be unlikely to give you a set figure for the total cost because they will work based on the merits of your case. You should be given a range of likely costs, however.

The Firm's Contact Procedures and Communication Methods

The contact procedures and communication methods used by your divorce attorney are important for two reasons. First, if you anticipate that you and your spouse will not be able to discuss issues amicably, or your spouse has a history of domestic violence and/or controlling behavior, you might want to talk to the attorney about whether you should have any contact during your divorce and the circumstances under which contact will be necessary. If there is a history of domestic violence, your attorney might need to be responsible for communicating with your estranged spouse on your behalf or with your spouse's attorneys. Ask the lawyer if you will be allowed to redirect any attempted communication to the law firm and how quickly the firm will respond.

The second reason to understand the firm's communication methods is to determine how frequently the lawyer will speak with you about your case. If you have questions while your case is pending, ask who you will need to speak with at the firm and how quickly they typically respond. You will want to learn how you will receive updates about your case and how the firm prefers you communicate. For example, some firms prefer emails while others prefer phone calls. Ask how quickly they typically respond to emails or return phone calls. You'll also want to know what to do if you need to contact someone in an emergency.

The Lawyer's Current Caseload

Even great attorneys have limits based on the number of cases they are handling. Ask a prospective attorney about the size of their current caseload and how much time they will have to dedicate to your case. An attorney who has a large caseload might not have enough time to spend on your case. By contrast, an attorney whose caseload is very small might be someone who fails to attract clients for a good reason. Make sure to ask about their caseload size, time commitments, and who will be working on your case if your attorney is unavailable. If an urgent matter arises, you will need to make sure that someone in the firm will be available to provide you with some guidance.

Talk to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey

You can never count on your divorce to be painless. Even if you plan and take the time to get everything in order before you file, things can sometimes go awry. Working with an experienced divorce attorney can help to alleviate stress while increasing the chances that you will achieve a fair outcome. If you have time to prepare, interview several prospective divorce attorneys, gather your documents, set some money aside, and get your finances in order. Taking these steps and finding the right attorney can put you in the best possible position for handling your divorce as painlessly as possible.

Deciding to end your marriage is an emotionally challenging experience. If you know that you want to end your marriage, consulting an experienced New Jersey divorce attorney at the Ziegler Law Group can help you prepare yourself legally, financially, and emotionally for the process ahead. Contact the Ziegler Law Group today to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (973) 878-4373.

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