Guide to the Divorce Process in New Jersey
If you're looking for information on the divorce process in New Jersey, you may need some quick background information. Seeking a divorce is never easy, and the amount of terminology and legal jargon in court forms and brochures can be overwhelming. Especially if you've never been involved with the legal system before, understanding the divorce process in New Jersey can make your divorce go more smoothly.
Complaint and Answer
For most divorces in New Jersey, there will be two documents called the “complaint” and the “answer.” The complaint can be filed by either spouse, and the answer is a document responding to it from the other spouse. This part of the divorce process in New Jersey is relatively simple for both parties.
The complaint and the answer are similarly formatted, and each will specify both the grounds for the divorce and the relief requested. Grounds are the reason for the divorce. You can establish “no-fault” grounds for divorce if you have been separated for at least 18 months. If you have not been separated, you will need to prove fault, including imprisonment, deviant sexual conduct, institutionalization, addiction, desertion, extreme cruelty, or adultery.
“Relief” in this context means the terms of the divorce being requested by either party. The divorce itself will be one of these terms, as well as a division of your marital property and parental responsibilities (if you have any children).
In some cases, one spouse either cannot be found or refuses to file an answer to the complaint. In these cases, default divorce will occur. After the complaint is filed, it will need to be officially served to the other spouse. If the spouse is officially served with the complaint by the sheriff's department, he or she will have a limited amount of time to answer it. If it is not answered by the time specified, the plaintiff spouse will generally win the divorce terms they asked for.
If the spouse cannot be located in order to serve him or her with divorce papers, you will be able to publish notice in a local newspaper near the defendant spouse's last known home address. Once you have published for several weeks (which can be quite expensive), the divorce process in New Jersey will conclude and you will generally be awarded the divorce terms you requested.
Most of the time, the divorce process in New Jersey never goes to trial. Instead, couples negotiate a settlement whereby they agree upon all aspects of the divorce. This can take a lot of work, and sometimes a trained mediator is needed to help divorcing couples solve a particularly thorny issue. The reduced expense of a mediator versus a trial means that most couples prefer to use these measures first.
Discovery and Trial
Couples who cannot or will not settle face an extended and expensive divorce process in New Jersey. You will go through a process called “discovery,” in which financial information for both spouses is investigated, and a trial where witnesses will be called. The discovery and trial process can take many months, and lawyer fees added to expert witness fees can result in steep legal bills.