Before commencing an action for divorce in New Jersey, you should have at least a basic understanding of the various steps in the divorce process and how the system works. To do that, you will need a divorce road map.
The First Step: Getting Started
The first step in the divorce process is arranging for an initial consultation with a NJ divorce attorney. At the initial consultation, the lawyer should answer any questions you may have and explain the divorce process to you. After consulting with the attorney, you will decide whether you will retain that attorney or possibly a different attorney that you may have spoken with. Once you retain the attorney, the attorney will begin to prepare the complaint for divorce and related documents that you must file to institute the divorce proceeding officially. The lawyer will help you in completing these documents and make sure you understand all of them. Finally, the divorce complaint will set forth the basis for seeking the divorce and what you seek from the Court, i.e., alimony or custody of the children.
The Second Step: Filing the Complaint and Initiating the Case
The next step after filing the complaint with the Court is to serve the complaint on your spouse. Once the complaint is filed with the Court, a docket number or tracking number will be assigned. The court system will manage your case by utilizing a docket number. Once filed, the complaint will be forwarded to your attorney with the docket number annexed. Once your attorney has received the filed complaint, you must make arrangements to have your spouse served with the complaint. You can accomplish this in several ways:
- Your lawyer can mail the complaint to your spouse and ask for your spouse or the lawyer retained by your spouse to sign what is called an acknowledgement of service form. This form confirms that your spouse has received the complaint.
- Upon execution of the form, the form is filed with the Court and your spouse then has 35 days from the date of the filing of that form to file a responsive pleading with the Court. In the event your spouse refuses to execute the form, then he/she will need to be personally served by a process server.
- To serve your spouse by way of a process server is not very expensive and typically can be done relatively easily. When your spouse files their responsive pleading with the Court, they will outline in their answer the items they are looking for from the Court as well.
- After both sides have filed their respective pleadings, the next step in the process is for the parties to prepare and file with the Court their Case Information Statements.
- The Case Information Statement is a financial document that delineates for the Court the marital lifestyle. It will let the Court know how much money you make, what your monthly bills are, what assets you have, and the debts you have. The Case Information Statement is an essential document. Your lawyer should review the contents of this document closely with you before filing it with the Court.
The Third Step: The Case Management Conference
The first Court involvement with your case happens next at what is called the case management conference. At the case management conference, the attorneys complete and submit to the Court a case management order. The case management order is a scheduling order that outlines what the procedure is and the deadline to complete it. So, by way of example, if you need to appraise your marital home, the case management order will set forth who will do the appraisal, provide payment requirement details, and give an estimated delivery time.
Upon completion of the case management conference, and the subsequent compliance with terms as set forth in the case management order which will be prepared by the court the next step in the process takes place: the Early Settlement Panel.
The Fourth Step: The Early Settlement Panel
The Early Settlement Panel is mandatory non-binding mediation that the courts arrange. The early settlement panel consists of the Court appointing an attorney as an assigned mediator to assist both the parties and their attorneys in resolving all outstanding issues, including child support and child custody. Before the Early Settlement Panel takes place, the attorneys submit their respective positions to the Panelist, outlining how they propose to resolve the issues that are in dispute. The Panelist reviews those position statements, speaks with the parties and the attorneys, and subsequently renders recommendations on how the case should resolve itself. The early settlement panelist is a volunteer attorney who does not get paid for their time. However, the Court will typically assign one or two panelists to assist in resolving the case.
Panelist reviews those position statements, speaks with the parties and the attorneys, and subsequently renders recommendations on how the case should resolve itself. The early settlement panelist is a volunteer attorney who does not get paid for their time. However, the Court will typically assign one or two panelists to assist in resolving the case.
Suppose the early settlement panel is unsuccessful in resolving all of the outstanding issues; the lawyers must then report to the Court and advise the Judge assigned to the case of this fact. The Court will then require the parties to engage in mediation and refer the parties to economic mediation.
The Fifth Step: Economic Mediation
An agreed-upon mediator performs this economic mediation. The mediator provides 2 hours of their time free of charge under the court rules. Upon the expiration of the initial two hours, the mediator then gets compensated based on their established hourly rate. The economic mediation takes place outside of the presence of the courthouse.
The Sixth Step: Post-Economic Mediation & The Pre-Trail Conference
Suppose the case is still not resolved after the economic mediation takes place. In that case, the attorneys will then be required to conduct a pre-trial conference with the Judge. At the pre-trial conference, the Judge will discuss the outstanding issues and direct the attorneys to the next steps in the process. Some examples of those next steps may include setting the matter down for a trial date or referring the parties back to mediation.
Need Assistance with Your Divorce Roadmap?
Should you have any questions concerning how divorces are handled in New Jersey, please reach out to the family law attorneys at the Villani and DeLuca law firm. The firm has six full-time attorneys who devote the entirety of their practices to divorce and family law-related issues. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have by providing you with sound legal advice. In addition, the firm offers a complimentary initial consultation.