More than half of the population of New Jersey is married. Meanwhile, 9% of its residents are divorced, translating to one of the lowest divorce rates in the United States. The factors affecting this low figure include the fact that most married couples in the state are of older age, have greater income, and have finished their higher education. Moreover, a probable reason why married individuals actively avoid separating is that New Jersey is one of the few states awarding permanent alimony, extending until an ex-spouse’s death.
However, even with these circumstances, some still choose to end their marriage for personal reasons, such as physical distance, addiction problems, financial issues, mental health concerns, or changes in individual goals or values.
But no matter the reason for a divorce, the people undergoing the process have to abide by laws and guidelines established by the state. Many of these will be discussed in the following sections, together with various resources for individuals going through this difficult ordeal.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in New Jersey
New Jersey’s divorce process, which is similar to unbinding a domestic partnership or civil union, can be initiated if the filer or their spouse has been a resident of the state for at least one year. Undergoing this procedure means that one spouse or both parties no longer want to be married.
Meanwhile, legal separation is an option for conjugal partners who want to take a pause on their relationship to have the time to decide whether they want to reconcile their marriage or officially proceed with a divorce. The similarity between divorce and legal separation is that after the court has made its ruling, the couple’s marriage will still be kept on record.
An annulment, on the other hand, completely erases any trace of a couple’s marriage from public records. This is because the procedure revokes their union, and the court rules that it has never happened. People may opt for annulment over divorce due to religious or moral concerns. However, the court in New Jersey does not grant annulment easily, leading couples to settle for a divorce or legal separation.
Is New Jersey a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
As a hybrid divorce state, New Jersey allows both no-fault and at-fault divorce to take place in its jurisdiction. In a no-fault divorce, the person who wants to split from their partner — also known as the petitioner — does not have to give a reason other than irreconcilable differences. State law says that a couple has to have had irreconcilable differences for at least half a year before one or both of them can file for a no-fault divorce.
Meanwhile, a fault-based divorce in New Jersey involves a divorce petitioner claiming that their spouse should be blamed for the breakdown of their marriage. One way to demonstrate this is by providing evidence of their spouse engaging in misconduct.
How to File for Divorce in New Jersey
New Jersey follows different procedures for uncontested and contested divorces. These processes will be discussed in the sections below.
1. File Your Papers.
Your divorce in New Jersey starts the moment you file a Complaint for Divorce Form against your spouse. You have the option to choose from different forms, depending on why you want to go through with the process. These include:
A person chooses to file a complaint using the 1D form when they want to go the no-fault route. Meanwhile, based on the forms above, separation, desertion, and extreme cruelty are valid reasons to begin an at-fault divorce procedure.
Do note that you might need to submit additional forms, including the following:
Certification of Insurance Coverage
Certification Verification and Non-collusion
Certification Regarding Redaction of Personal Identifiers
Certification of Self-Represented Litigant and Dispute Resolution Alternatives
Confidential Litigant Information Sheet
2. Serve the Divorce Summons.
After filing your Complaint for Divorce, you will now have to serve the summons to your spouse within 10 days. Petitioners whose spouses do not agree to the divorce particularly find this process stressful. If you find yourself in this situation, there are many ways to serve the summons without having to do it yourself; it can be delivered through the mail, through a process serving agency, or through the sheriff of the county where your spouse resides.
In the event that your spouse is not against the divorce, you can personally have them sign an Acknowledgement of Service, which is a form they need to fill out to confirm that the papers have been served.
3. Wait for a Response to the Divorce Complaint.
Your spouse must respond within 35 days after receiving the divorce complaint and summons. They can file an answer if they are against anything you have stated on the claim. They may also file an answer and a counterclaim if they want to give a different reason for the divorce or provide a separate claim.
If you and your spouse agree on all the details, you can finalize your divorce without making a personal appearance. You can do so by following the directive regarding having a divorce on the papers. Some counties automatically apply this process to settle uncontested divorce cases. However, there are instances where the court still decides to take a case to trial.
In case your spouse does not contest your claim but still wants the court to hear their side, especially on aspects involving child support, parenting time, alimony, and property distribution, they can submit a Notice of Appearance.
Meanwhile, if your spouse does not respond to your complaint within the given timeline, you will need to use the default divorce process to resolve your case. This procedure is when the judge grants the divorce in your favor after your spouse fails to take any action. Keep in mind that your spouse’s inability to respond to the summons does not automatically make your divorce uncontested.
4. File a Case Information Statement.
Each spouse must file a Case Information Statement, which encompasses most of their financial details, such as their debts, liabilities, income, assets, and real estate. This will be necessary when dealing with certain legal matters, such as property division and alimony. It is important to fill out the CIS form correctly for accurate asset division.
5. Undergo the Discovery Process.
This part of the process is where having an attorney represent you is crucial. Your attorney must familiarize themselves with the details of your marriage based on the information you have included in the CIS form. They can use the information to formulate divorce negotiations against your spouse. This process may take a while since your attorney and your spouse’s legal team may have to argue back and forth until a settlement has been made.
Note that the discovery process is not required in a New Jersey divorce, especially if there are no contested matters or a couple has already resolved their asset division-related issues.
6. Attend an Early Settlement Program.
If you and your spouse are not able to reach an agreement within the deadline for the discovery process, you must both appear before an early settlement panel to go over the specifics of the case and deal with any contested issue. Through mediation, the panel is tasked with helping you and your spouse reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce.
At least five days before the hearing, you must both submit the necessary documents to the panelists and coordinator. Not submitting them means you will either have to pay your spouse’s legal fees or your case will be dismissed.
7. Proceed to Economic Mediation.
Economic mediation is the next step if your divorce case is still not settled even after appearing before an early settlement panel. This court-mandated process will serve as another attempt to come to an agreement with your spouse regarding the terms of your divorce. An early settlement program is sponsored by the court, but note that after the first two hours of this procedure, you and your spouse will be responsible for paying for the mediator.
8. Attend an Intensive Settlement Conference.
In the most complex divorce cases, the discovery process, early settlement panel, and economic mediation are not enough to resolve the divorcing couple’s issues. In these cases, an Intensive Settlement Conference becomes necessary. This is typically scheduled and heard by a judge in a courthouse. You and your spouse are mandated to attend this conference, where you and your lawyers can discuss unresolved issues before the judge.
9. Take Your Divorce Case to Court.
If all efforts have been made to resolve the issues of your divorce case in New Jersey, the final string to draw is a case trial, where the court will decide on a final verdict. The judge will hear your and your spouse's testimonies during the trial and review the documents you have submitted. When this is over, the court will issue you a Final Judgment of Divorce.
It is important to know that the divorce process is a time-consuming endeavor, and the court usually advises couples to settle their issues as early as possible to prevent a lengthy and expensive procedure.
How Property is Divided in a New Jersey Divorce
In the event of a divorce, a couple in New Jersey should divide all property they acquired during their marriage equitably. This means there should be a fair — and not necessarily equal — distribution of property. Most of the time, spouses can decide on their own how to divide their assets and debts. However, if they are unable to reach an agreement, a courtroom judge will come up with a final verdict regarding the division of their property.
A couple in the process of splitting their property equitably must be knowledgeable of what is considered marital property in New Jersey. This refers to the assets they have acquired during the course of their marriage, even if only one spouse actually paid for them. In addition, the gifts that a person gives to their spouse, such as luxury items, cars, or any valuable object, will still be regarded as marital property.
But note that certain types of assets are exempted during the equitable distribution process:
Properties gifted to only one spouse from a third party before or during the marriage.
Properties inherited by one spouse before or during the marriage.
Properties bought by one spouse before the marriage.
Properties purchased or received by a spouse during the marriage but were a result of the income the same spouse earned before the marriage.
Now that we have covered the basic definitions, it’s time to discuss how the New Jersey Divorce Court decides on property division. During this process, a judge considers various factors, including:
Each spouse’s age, along with their emotional and physical health.
The length of the couple’s marriage.
The couple’s debts, liabilities, and standard of living while married.
Each spouse’s property and income brought into the marriage.
Each spouse’s predicted financial situation after the divorce.
There are other considerations since a judge will be meticulously going over the details of the divorce to make sure that each spouse’s situation is factored in. For instance, in accordance with New Jersey law, a judge may not award any of the marital property to a spouse who has a record of being a convicted murderer or attempting to murder their spouse.
New Jersey Divorce FAQs
Some of your questions about the divorce process in New Jersey, especially the time and expenses involved, may be answered below.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in New Jersey
Now that you have learned the basics of divorce in New Jersey, you may be wondering where you can know more about the process. You may also be feeling a little lost or even discouraged after discovering how much it typically costs. The legal resources below can help you understand it further and connect with local organizations that can provide free and low-cost services.
The New Jersey Self-Help Center contains basic information about the divorce process in the state. Through this website, you can gain access to a variety of forms you will need to file a divorce complaint.
This program aims to help women, families, and children during the divorce process in New Jersey, particularly those who are self-represented individuals. It puts emphasis on providing assistance when filing the initial complaint paperwork. Its volunteer attorneys also work closely with their clients in collecting the required documents, preparing pleadings, and filing a case using the court's online filing system.
The Legal Services of New Jersey operates this initiative to support and expand pro bono civil legal assistance to disadvantaged people in New Jersey. It provides services to people dealing with different legal concerns, such as divorce and domestic violence. On its website, one can also find links to various legal agencies.
New Jersey Free Legal Answers is an online legal advice clinic where qualified users can post questions related to their civil legal issues. They can ask any questions free of charge, and state-licensed pro bono attorneys will provide the answers. Some of the topics discussed on this website include divorce and custody.
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