What Are Grounds for Divorce?
The grounds for divorce are the legal reasons why a marriage should be legally dissolved and terminated. New Jersey law recognizes several grounds, including the following:
- Extreme cruelty
- Addiction to drugs for a prolonged period (12 or more months)
- Habitual drunkenness for 12 or more months
- Separation for 18 or more months/no-fault
- Being committed in a mental institution
- Being sentenced to prison
- Engaging in deviate sexual conduct
- Irreconcilable differences
These grounds can be divided into fault-based and no-fault grounds. Those that constitute fault-based grounds require the petitioner to prove them in court by a preponderance of the evidence. No-fault divorce grounds, including no-fault divorce and irreconcilable differences, don't require the petitioner to prove their spouse was at fault in the divorce and might allow the spouses to undergo a less contentious process. However, filing a no-fault divorce does not guarantee that a divorce case won't undergo litigation. We'll take a look at each of the various divorce grounds in New Jersey below.
Fault-Based Divorce Grounds in New Jersey
The fault-based divorce grounds in New Jersey are discussed below.
Adultery or infidelity during your marriage is a recognized ground for divorce in New Jersey. However, you will need to present proof to the court beyond innuendo or gossip. In the past, spouses who alleged adultery as grounds for divorce in New Jersey would hire a private investigator to gather evidence of their spouse's infidelity. Other methods of gathering evidence to present to the court include checking social media, email, text messages, credit card statements, bank account statements, and receipts to show that a spouse has engaged in an illicit affair with someone else.
If your spouse abandoned you and has been gone for 12 or more months, you can file for divorce based on abandonment or desertion. Under the law, you can establish this divorce ground by presenting evidence that you and your spouse stopped cohabiting as spouses at least 12 months before filing your divorce complaint. Spouses in heterosexual or same-sex marriages can claim abandonment as a ground for divorce in New Jersey.
Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol
Drug addiction and alcoholism can place an inordinate amount of stress on a marriage and a couple's finances. If your spouse has been addicted to drugs or alcohol for 12 or more months and has continued to abuse their substances of choice, you can claim addiction to drugs or habitual drunkenness as a divorce ground in your complaint for divorce. However, you will need to prove that your spouse's alcohol or drug abuse has lasted for at least 12 months to support this divorce ground.
Incarceration for 18 or More Months
If your spouse was sentenced to prison for 18 or more months following your marriage, you can file for divorce and allege their imprisonment as a ground for divorce. By contrast, if your spouse had already served a prison sentence before you were married but not after you tied the knot, you can't allege this ground. You can file a divorce complaint claiming imprisonment of your spouse after they are released as long as you did not resume living together after their release.
Sexually deviant conduct is a recognized divorce ground that occurs when one spouse engages in sexual acts with the other spouse without their consent. In the 1990s, the state made marital rape a criminal offense. If you are filing for divorce based on your spouse raping you, you can claim this ground for divorce.
Extreme cruelty occurs when a spouse's conduct is so cruel that it would be unreasonable to have to continue in the marriage. Victims of domestic violence are protected under New Jersey law against both emotional and physical cruelty. If your spouse has perpetrated acts of domestic violence against you in your marriage, you should also consider asking the court to issue a protection order when you file a divorce complaint to prevent your spouse from abusing you further.
Institutionalization for a Mental Illness
If your spouse has been committed to a mental institution for a mental illness for two or more years following your marriage, you can file a complaint for divorce alleging their institutionalization as a ground for divorce. You can only allege this ground if your spouse has been committed for two or more years after your marriage. You can't pursue this divorce ground based on your spouse's concealment of a history of mental illness without institutionalization.
No-Fault Divorce Grounds
There are two recognized grounds for no-fault divorce in New Jersey as discussed below.
New Jersey doesn't have legal separation for married couples as an action that you can pursue. However, you can claim separation as a basis for a divorce. To get divorced based on separation, you and your spouse must have lived apart for 18 or more months. If you have, you won't need to prove that your spouse engaged in any marital misconduct to get divorced.
Most couples choose to file complaints for divorce based on irreconcilable differences. This means that the differences between you and your spouse are great enough that there is no hope that your marriage can be saved. You won't need to prove anything to claim irreconcilable differences, but you will need to attest that the irreconcilable differences in your marriage have lasted for six or more months and that they are unlikely to subside.
No-Fault vs. Fault Divorce Grounds
New Jersey's divorce statute was amended in 2007 to add no-fault grounds. Before then, a spouse who wanted to get divorced had to pursue fault-based grounds for divorce. No-fault divorce allows people to pursue divorce without needing to publicly accuse their spouses of misconduct that could harm their reputation. No-fault divorce is less contentious and allows divorcing couples to end their marriages amicably without engaging in an adversarial process.
Effect of Divorce Grounds on Asset Distributuion
Couples who get divorced in New Jersey will have their assets divided equitably rather than equally since New Jersey follows an equitable distribution rule. This means that the court will determine how to divide your assets based on what is fair rather than what is equal. In a no-fault divorce, courts typically try to divide assets in such a way that doesn't favor one spouse over the other. By contrast, in an at-fault divorce, the court might sanction the at-fault spouse in how it distributes the property or awards alimony. This is especially true in cases involving domestic violence and extreme cruelty grounds.
If you and your spouse share children, the ground for divorce you pursue might also affect child custody orders. For example, if you prove that you are divorcing your spouse because of their longstanding alcohol and drug abuse, the judge will be unlikely to award your spouse sole custody of your children. If your spouse has a documented history of abusing you and/or your children, they might lose custody and visitation rights with your children.
It's important to understand that whenever someone claims a fault ground in a complaint for divorce, they will go through an adversarial divorce process. If you pursue a fault-based divorce, you and your divorce lawyer in New Jersey will have to prove the ground you allege in court.
Speak to a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
Many people who are planning to divorce want to pursue fault-based divorces to try to punish their spouses and publicly air out their differences. However, this is not always the best approach. Pursuing a no-fault divorce might be a faster and easier way to end your marriage while protecting your rights. If you are considering a divorce, speak with a divorce lawyer in New Jersey at the Ziegler Law Group today about your options by calling us at (973) 878-4373.
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