The Divorce Process in New Jersey
Divorce can be emotionally exhausting, but there is no reason to avoid divorce because you are confused about the process. Before making the decision to file, you should have a handle on what will be expected of you. No two divorces are the same because each family is unique. Nevertheless, the divorce process roughly follows the same sequence.
File a Complaint
All divorces start with one spouse filing a Complaint for Divorce in the county where he or she lives. It costs $300 to file. In the Complaint, you will state the grounds for divorce. “Irreconcilable differences” is the most popular reason.
The spouse who files must also serve a copy of the Complaint and other paperwork on the spouse so that he or she can respond. Generally, you can pay the sheriff or a private process server to make service on your spouse.
Respond to the Complaint
The spouse who is served has 35 days to respond to the Complaint. If your spouse does not respond, then you can seek a Default Judgment of Divorce from the court.
Receive Temporary Orders
A divorce can take up to a year in New Jersey. In the interim, you will probably separate from your spouse. If you have children, you will need to establish custody and child support, and either spouse might request alimony. You can make a request to the court for temporary orders on these issues, which will last until the divorce is finalized and permanent orders are put in place.
Requesting temporary orders is a critical part of any divorce. They set the tone for the divorce proceedings, and final orders often mirror the temporary ones. Think carefully before submitting your request.
Attend a Case Management Conference
A case management conference gives the judge some idea of what the disputes in the divorce will be and how much fact-finding each side will need. Typically, spouses cannot agree on one or more of the following:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Division of debts and property
In New Jersey, case management conferences vary significantly from county to county. In some counties, you can avoid a conference altogether by signing a case management order.
Engage in Discovery
Discovery is the fact-finding phase of any lawsuit. During discovery, you can request information from your spouse and from third parties. For example, you might think your spouse is hiding assets from you. If so, you can request that he or she answers questions under oath, and you can also request information from third parties like banks and investment firms by issuing a subpoena. Discovery is a complicated process that requires a lawyer’s assistance.
Meet with the Early Settlement Panel
You and your spouse can reach an agreement on all major issues at any time. For example, you can come up with a marital settlement agreement before you even file for divorce. However, in contested divorce cases in which spouses cannot agree, you will need to participate in an early settlement panel with the hopes that you can reach agreement and avoid a trial.
The panel is made up of one or more experienced New Jersey divorce lawyers who will listen to the dispute. They will make a non-binding recommendation about how to settle all issues except child custody and visitation. If both spouses agree with the panel’s recommendation, you can get divorced that day.
Attend Economic Mediation
Early settlement might not be successful, so the next step is economic mediation where both sides meet with a neutral third party, the mediator. Unlike the early settlement panel, mediation is not free, however the first two hours are paid through the Courts. If you reach agreement, you can draft a marital settlement agreement.
Participate in an Intensive Settlement Conference
New Jersey is committed to getting divorcing couples to agree on important issues, and to that end usually requires couples to attend at least one intensive settlement conference at the courthouse. You attend with your lawyer, and the lawyers will usually meet at least once privately with the judge to get his or her initial impressions of the case. The judge does not hear testimony, and his or her opinions are not binding.
Prepare for Trial
The final step in a contested divorce is a trial on all issues upon which the couple cannot agree. Trials require extensive preparation, such as preparing exhibits, finding witnesses, and prepping each witness for testimony. At trial, each side can present evidence that supports their arguments, and they can also cross-examine each other’s witnesses. At the end of the trial, a judge will decide all issues.
Speak to a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer Now
Elena K. Weitz, Esq. has been representing clients in divorce proceedings for over a decade. Her client-centered approach begins with listening to what her clients want from their divorce and fighting for the best results possible. Contact her today for a consultation.