Sometimes “‘Til death do us part” evolves into “‘Til the judge dissolves our marriage.” When that happens, it's important you file accurate, properly completed paperwork in a timely manner. Divorce can be a confusing process, and one simple error can result in lost assets, unfair custody arrangements or a dismissal of your case. Read on to learn how to file for divorce in New Jersey as well as what your dissolution of marriage may entail.
1. Make Sure You Meet State Requirements
You can't file for divorce in New Jersey if neither you nor your soon-to-be ex have been a New Jersey resident for at least one year. You must file in the state where one — or both — of you previously resided or wait until you reach the required time frame in New Jersey. An exception to this rule applies if you or your spouse were unfaithful in the state of New Jersey before the one-year mark.
New Jersey has the option of no-fault divorces as well as fault divorces. Simply put, that means you can request a divorce for irreconcilable differences or the inappropriate actions of one party.
A no-fault divorce that stems from separation requires that you live apart for at least 18 months prior to filing for divorce. A no-fault divorce due to irreconcilable differences requires at least six months of difficulties prior to filing for divorce.
A fault divorce requires less of a waiting period: 12 months if your spouse abandons you and three months if you suffer extreme cruelty through your spouse's actions. Examples include domestic violence and emotional abuse.
2. Gather Relevant Information
Divorce requires stacks of paperwork about your income, assets, insurance coverage and debts. You cannot file for divorce in New Jersey without providing this information, so have it ready before you head to the courthouse or meet with a family law attorney.
You can find income information on tax returns, 1099 forms, self-employment ledgers or statements of benefits. Use paycheck stubs if either of you have recently started a new job or if you don't have the other information available. You may also find it helpful to print out the last year or two of bank statements from joint accounts as well as individual accounts.
When you list your assets, don't just focus on your home, vehicles, and bank accounts. Add everything you own, including personal goods and business-related items.
Here are some important assets to include on your list:
- Boats or other watercraft
- Rental properties
- Credit cards
- Retirement plans
- Upcoming tax refunds
- Household goods, such as furniture and electronics
- Antiques and collectibles
- Debts owed to you and/or your spouse as the result of a loan you've provided
- Business-related assets, such as accounts receivable or office supplies
Do not attempt to hide assets during a divorce. This may anger the judge, especially if they find out about the assets during a discovery or deposition. These legal processes involve questions about your assets, and your soon-to-be ex can subpoena documents from banks or other parties if needed.
New Jersey divorce paperwork also requires information about insurance policies. This includes health insurance and automobile insurance, as well as other types of insurance, including:
- Renter's insurance
- Life insurance
- Disability insurance
- Homeowners insurance
- Travel insurance
- Pet insurance
List all insurance policies you have at the time of your divorce, even if you do not wish to keep the policy.
3. Determine Your Preferred Outcome
A divorce can get costly and time-consuming quickly, especially if things aren't amicable. You can't fully prevent your spouse from dragging out your case, but you can speed things up by knowing what you want from the divorce.
You should know your desired outcome before you file divorce papers, regardless of whether you file on your own or enlist the help of a divorce attorney. Here are some factors to consider when deciding your preferred outcome:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Insurance coverage
- Mortgage payments if you want to keep your house
- Automobile payments if you want to keep your vehicle(s)
- Property division
- Asset division
As you make your list, keep in mind you may not receive everything you want from the divorce. Your spouse has his or her own wishes, so you may have to go through mediation or let a judge decide who gets what.
4. Consult With a Family Law Attorney
Divorce is an extensive process, and many spouses find it difficult. That's why it's wise to meet with a family law attorney before you file any paperwork.
You can hire an attorney to help with the entire divorce or request limited-scope representation. During limited-scope representation, an attorney may help review and file paperwork while you represent yourself in the courtroom. Make sure you sign a legal document detailing the services of your limited-scope representation prior to paying a retainer.
You may prefer to have a lawyer represent you for your entire case, especially if you and your spouse disagree about child custody, asset division or debt distribution. This protects your legal rights and helps the divorce go as smoothly as possible.
Many lawyers, including Villani & DeLuca, offer free consultations for individuals considering divorce. If you're unsure whether you need an attorney, request a consultation and bring a list of questions about your situation.
5. File a Divorce Complaint
After you've finished the steps above, it's time to officially get your divorce started by filing paperwork known as a complaint. Your divorce complaint is just that: a complaint about your marriage. It requires basic information, such as the names and address(es) of you and your spouse, plus an explanation about why you want a divorce. If you have experienced domestic violence and fear for your safety, you don't have to include your address in the complaint. However, you need an alternate address, such as P.O. box or the mailing address for a trusted friend.
Be honest in your complaint. Some spouses are embarrassed to reveal information about infidelity or abuse, but the judge in your county likely sees these issues on a regular basis.
Your complaint should also include your desired outcome, such as whether you want to keep your home or have joint custody of the children. This is not a guaranteed outcome; it just helps the court understand what you're seeking. Women can also request to have their maiden name restored.
In addition to your complaint sheet, you will need to file the following documents:
- Confidential Litigant Information Sheet — This form is where you provide general information about yourself and your family, such as Social Security numbers and birth dates.
- Certificate of Insurance Coverage — This form must include all your insurance policies, including expiration and renewal dates.
- CDR Information Sheet — This form shows you understand that you can potentially settle your divorce with low-cost options such as mediation.
Your divorce may require additional forms. Check with an attorney or your local courthouse if you are unsure whether you need more documents than the ones listed here.
Divorce is not a free process, so you must pay filing fees or request a fee waiver before the court accepts any or all of these documents.
6. Provide Legal Notice to Your Spouse
The court will not notify your spouse about the divorce unless you request that they do so. You must provide notice by enlisting the help of a process server, sending copies via certified mail or having your attorney notify your spouse's attorney.
When your spouse receives legal notice about your request for dissolution, expect them to file an appearance, a response or a counterclaim. They can file more than one of these things if desired.
An entry of appearance means your spouse does not want a default judgment and plans to appear at court either in person or through their attorney. A response generally means your spouse disagrees with some of what you've written in your divorce papers. A counterclaim means your spouse disagrees with your grounds for divorce and wishes to provide different information.
Remember, your spouse may contest the divorce. Prepare for a legal battle if your spouse wants to save your marriage, but you want a dissolution.
7. Attend All Court Dates
You're not done with your divorce after you file the paperwork and notify your spouse. You must attend all court dates, even if you don't understand or agree with why they're scheduled.
If you fail to attend a scheduled court date, the judge can make a decision without you, unless you have a lawyer present on your behalf. This may be a minor decision, such as continuing your court date to a later point in time. It may also be a serious decision, such as awarding sole custody of your children to your spouse or giving them all of your assets. The judge may also dismiss your case if your ex appears and you do not.
Going through a separation or divorce can be very difficult, no matter the reason behind the breakup. Villani & DeLuca's family law attorneys understand the emotional and financial toll marital disputes have on their clients. We hope to ease the stress and frustration brought on by divorce by taking away some of that burden.
“I appreciate very much the way you handled my divorce. It is nice to now that it is possible to get through a difficult time with your dignity and sense of humor intact.” Going through a separation or divorce can be very difficult, no matter the reason behind the breakup. We hope to ease the stress and frustration brought on by divorce by taking away some of that burden. Villani & DeLuca's New Jersey family law attorneys understand the emotional and financial toll marital disputes have on their clients. For that reason, when going through a family matter, guidance by legal and financial advisors is paramount.” – Divorce Client
Divorce is not an overnight process. It requires careful planning, and once you initiate the process, you should expect to spend some time in the courtroom unless your ex agrees to mediation. You can file for divorce without a lawyer, but that puts you at risk of losing property, pets, or time with your children. Protect your interests with an experienced NJ family law attorney who understands the stress of divorce and can help you navigate the process from start to finish.
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