You may be eager to finish the divorce process once you’ve realized your marriage is over. Many people are ready for closure and wonder how much time they need to complete their New Jersey divorce before they can move on with their lives.
The time needed to finalize a divorce can range from just a couple of months to a year or more. New Jersey courts generally try to complete all divorce cases in no more than 12 months. However, exceptional circumstances sometimes cause a case to take additional time.
How long a divorce takes depends on many factors. These include the reason for the divorce and what types of contested issues need a ruling from the judge. An experienced New Jersey family law attorney can help you avoid any unnecessary delays while working to protect your rights.
Factors Affecting How Long It Takes to Finalize an NJ Divorce
Unlike many other states, New Jersey doesn’t have any minimum waiting period once a person files a divorce case. Technically, a couple could obtain a divorce decree very quickly. In reality, most divorces take at least a month or more to complete, but NJ courts aim to have divorce matters take no more than one year.
There are a few things that impact when you can actually initiate a divorce case by filing a Complaint for Divorce with the court. These include:
- How quickly you complete and file the necessary paperwork
- The reason for requesting a divorce
- Length of residency in NJ
Once you file a case, a few things influence how long it will be before the court can issue your final divorce orders, also known as a divorce decree:
- How long it takes to serve your spouse with divorce papers
- The extent to which you and your spouse are able to cooperate
- The number and complexity of contested issues
- The court’s schedule
It’s understandable that you would want to get your divorce over with as soon as possible, however, divorce cases should be handled carefully to avoid mistakes which can cause inadvertent delays or negatively impact your rights.
Starting a Divorce Case and Serving Your Spouse
Filing for divorce is a life-changing decision, and many people need time to be sure that they wish to end their marriage. However, the court can’t start processing a divorce until one or both parties file a Complaint for Dissolution. If you’re ready to divorce, filing a case right away may be advantageous. Filing quickly not only means you could be divorced sooner, but it also provides you with certain legal protections.
Once you file for divorce, you must serve your spouse as required by N.J.S. §2A:34-9(b). Usually, this requires having a process server personally provide your spouse with a copy of the Complaint for Divorce and a court summons. However, your spouse can waive this requirement if they’re willing to file an acknowledgment of service with the court.
Failing to serve your spouse properly can cause delays and completely prevent your case from moving forward. Unfortunately, some spouses refuse to waive service, and some make attempts to hide from process servers. A tough NJ divorce lawyer can work to have even the most challenging spouse served so your case keeps moving forward.
The Cause for Divorce Impacts When You May File a Complaint
A person may file for divorce for several reasons, under N.J.S. §2A:34-2. The cause for a divorce doesn’t affect how long the case takes from the filing of the Complaint to issuance of a final divorce decree. However, the cause does impact when a person may file for divorce.
For example, if the reason for the divorce is the opposing spouse’s addiction to drugs or alcohol, the addiction must have existed for at least 12 months before the divorce filing. On the other hand, a person may file for divorce immediately if their spouse commits adultery.
Separated parties who have lived in different households for at least 18 months can file for divorce. Filing for divorce after separation is sometimes considered New Jersey’s version of no-fault divorce as there’s no need for another explanation for the dissolution. However, this isn’t a good option for a non-separated person who wishes to avoid waiting 18 months to end their marriage.
Irreconcilable differences under N.J.S. §2A:34-2(i) are now a very commonly cited cause for divorce. A party must allege that the differences have caused a breakdown of the marriage for at least six months and that there’s no reasonable likelihood of reconciliation.
New Jersey Residency and Possible Delays
New Jersey courts may only hear and rule on divorce cases if at least one of the spouses is a New Jersey resident when the case is initiated. However, the spouse who files for divorce doesn’t necessarily have to be the NJ resident.
Additionally, under N.J.S. §2A:34-10, at least one spouse must be a bona fide resident of NJ for at least a full year before the divorce is filed. Cases involving adultery are the only exception to this rule. A person may immediately file for divorce if their spouse commits adultery as long as one party currently resides in New Jersey. This statute does have the potential to delay a divorce for couples who recently moved to New Jersey.
Contested Issues May Take Longer
The number and complexity of contested issues usually have the most substantial impact on how long a divorce takes. If parties agree on all major issues in the divorce, their lawyers draft a written agreement. This process is less time-consuming than preparing a case for trial. The court can usually approve these agreements and issue a divorce decree reasonably quickly.
However, if hearings or a trial are needed so that a judge can rule on contested issues, the court’s schedule limits the speed of the case. Unfortunately, courts sometimes experience a backlog of cases, and it may take some time before a judge can hear your matter.
Lawyers also need time to prepare a strong case, collect evidence, and review financial documents. If your spouse isn’t forthcoming with financial information, your lawyer needs additional time to obtain this information through court orders or third parties. Evidence in cases involving complex and contested financial issues may take longer to review and present in court.
Contested child custody issues can also require additional time. The court may need to conduct hearings on both temporary and permanent custody, and lawyers may need to conduct a thorough investigation regarding the best interests of the children.
Although delays can be frustrating, they’re often better than giving up valuable legal rights just to make your divorce go quickly. However, if your spouse is the one hoping for a quick divorce, you may be able to use this to your advantage when negotiating a settlement agreement.
A Skilled NJ Divorce Lawyer Could Help You Avoid Unnecessary Delays
Regardless of how urgently you wish to finalize your divorce, a New Jersey divorce attorney can work to protect your rights. A lawyer can’t always make your case go faster, but they can help you avoid mistakes that cost time and money. Understanding legal procedures and NJ laws not only keeps your case moving forward, but also ensures that you get the property and parenting time you deserve.
The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca have many years of experience fighting for New Jersey divorce clients, and they’re available to answer your questions. If you want to know whether you can file for divorce, how long your divorce will take, or need a lawyer to protect your interests, contact Villani & DeLuca today for a consultation.