Steps in The Litigated Divorce Process in New Jersey
Before you go any further please note that in order to obtain a divorce in New Jersey one spouse must live in the state for at least one year prior to filing.
Step 1: Gather Your Information and Key Records: The single most important task is to acquire information regarding your current financial, personal and legal standing. This cannot be stressed enough. Access to records may become extremely difficult once the complaint is served and they are vital to a successful settlement. Gather your documents and store them in a safe place. Do not keep them in your car or a drawer in your home. If you cannot safely remove original documents, make clear and legible photocopies or pictures of them. See our list of important documents here.
Step 2: Contact the Professionals
Legal Representation: Talk to a qualified Divorce attorney. Even if you think you can come to an amicable settlement and your matter will resolve without a trial, an experienced divorce attorney will act as your advocate, making certain that the negotiations are fair and the settlement agreement is equitable.
Counseling: If you have the opportunity, counseling may save you from a good deal of heartache. It may give you the opportunity to repair your relationship or to understand how and why you need to move on. Counseling with a qualified professional before, during and after the divorce process is incredibly valuable to you.
Step 3: File a Complaint for Divorce: Your divorce attorney will file the complaint for Divorce. This is an official legal notice that you are seeking a divorce. It includes the reason (grounds) for the divorce and an Affidavit of Insurance Coverage.
Once you file the Complaint, your attorney may ask the court for Pendente Lite orders to be put in place while you negotiate the divorce. These temporary orders can include custody, visitation, and parenting time or financial arrangements, such as child support, spousal support, and maintenance of the marital bills pending the final resolution of your matter.
Step 4: Serve the Complaint:
Your divorce attorney will arrange that the complaint be delivered to your spouse. This step is very important, the Court will want written proof that your spouse was aware of the action to end your marriage.
Step 5: Court Process
From here the process is geared toward producing an equitable settlement. A divorce settlement divides the property and responsibilities created during the marriage. The sooner that you and your partner come to a fair settlement, the more likely you are to avoid the expense and emotional cost of a trial.
There are many factors to consider in crafting a comprehensive divorce settlement and consulting a legal professional is an important component to protect everyone’s interests. There are plenty of divorce-yourself products available online and some couples see these DIY divorces as a way to cut costs by doing the work themselves. Unfortunately, in their rush to save time and money, these couples may find they have crafted an agreement that costs them much more money in the long run.
Case Management Conference
The Case Management Conference clarifies the issues in the divorce and produces a set of deadlines for information to be exchanged. These are a set of actions, a legal to-do list, that need to be accomplished during the next phase.
Think of discovery as a period of fact gathering and investigation. The value of assets and mutual responsibilities are gathered. You will complete a Case Information Statement and answer questions about your marriage. If you have worked out an agreement with your spouse by the end of the discovery period you can appear in court and finalize your divorce.
If you have not reached a fair settlement by the end of the discovery period New Jersey has steps in place to help you get to an agreement before there’s need for a trial.
Early Settlement Panel
If you have disagreements on important financial issues after the discovery period, you will discuss the remaining issues with your own attorneys and two impartial, experienced divorce lawyers. This experienced panel will recommend a fair settlement based on the particulars of the case. Couples who accept the panel’s recommendations may be able to finalize their divorce almost immediately.
Assigned Economic Mediation
If unresolved economic issues are standing in the way of settlement an economic mediator will be assigned to bring your matter to conclusion.
Pretrial Conference w/ Judge
These are relatively rare, but for couples who have not reached an agreement they are a chance to go over the issues that are still pending before a judge. If the Judge makes a recommendation that resolves the issue, the couple can obtain a divorce very quickly.
Intensive Settlement Panel
These panels are a last chance to resolve any remaining issues before a trial.
If after every effort has been exhausted there is still no agreement, the couple will go to trial. A Judge will hear the facts of your case, including expert testimony and witnesses and make a final decision about the nature of your divorce. The Judge will require you to know the rules of evidence and abide by Court Rules and Procedure. The Court is confined to rule on matters based upon the law.
Step 6: Judgement of Divorce
This is the final step in the divorce process. The Judgement makes your divorce final, it is the document that legally ends the marriage. If you wish to modify your surname, you can incorporate this into the Judgment of Divorce.