How Divorce Works in New Jersey
At the law offices of Morris, Downing & Sherred, our attorneys have a reputation for assisting with and explaining how the divorce process works in New Jersey. We understand that divorce is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through, so we believe you should understand the process and play an active role in all aspects of your case.
The phases of any divorce are typically as follows:
- The Initial Pleadings
- The Case Information Statement
- Pendente Lite Support
- Fact & Expert Discovery
- The Mandatory Early Settlement Panel
- Trial or Uncontested Hearing
The Initial Pleadings
In the state of New Jersey, married people must plead and prove grounds for divorce. This is done in a document known as the Complaint. The Complaint may also ask the court to grant other relief where appropriate, such as: custody, alimony and child support, property distribution, payment of counsel fees and resumption of your maiden name. There are several grounds for divorce, including irreconcilable differences, adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion, habitual drunkenness or drug use, and deviant sexual behavior.
Once the Complaint is filed with the court, the Sheriff or a private process server will serve it on the other spouse. The other spouse to the divorce action may file his or her own counterclaim for divorce and related relief or simply enter a notice of appearance.
Every case in the state of New Jersey requires the completion of a Case Information Statement. The Case Information Statement requires each party to set forth a budget as to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This form is the most important document in the divorce. It allows each party to track the money that was spent during the marriage. In addition, the form identifies all of the parties’ assets and liabilities, including those that are not subject to equitable distribution.
“Pendente Lite” is Latin for pending litigation or “during the case.” Pendente Lite support is available when the supporting spouse cuts off support of the supported spouse. Pendente Lite Orders are in effect until the final hearing. These rulings can be critical and may significantly impact the outcome of a case. Requests for pendente lite relief typically include the following:
- Payment of spousal and child support;
- Payment of certain liabilities, including the mortgage, utilities, and health, auto and homeowners’ insurances;
- Restraints against dissipating marital property;
- Payment of attorneys fees and expert fees;
- Temporary custody and visitation.
Fact & Expert Discovery
An integral part of preparing your divorce strategy and advising you of your rights requires an understanding your marital assets and debts. The investigation of your and your spouse’s employment history, tax returns, bank accounts, real estate, antiques, inheritances, health histories, and monthly expenses is also required in order to make a reasonable assessment of all of the relevant facts.
This search for information is known as “Discovery.” This information is used at the time of trial to present your case. Discovery includes the following tools that you and your attorney will discuss
- Interrogatories: written questions that you and your spouse must answer under oath
- Requests for Production of Documents: A written request to produce specified documents such as bank records, insurance policies, employment agreements, pension statements, etc
- Depositions: A tool rarely used in divorce cases because of the costs associated with depositions. In a deposition, a party or witness is questioned under oath in the presence of a court reporter that transcribes each question and answer in a transcript.
If the case is contested, forensic accountants, property appraisals, and where custody is an issue, psychological experts, use the information obtained from interrogatories, documents, and depositions, to prepare their expert reports and to prepare their testimony for trial. No expert report can be used unless it is made available during Discovery. While it is the objective of the discovery process to ensure that both parties are fully prepared for trial, it also enables the parties to enter into settlement negotiations with a full understanding of the facts.
After Discovery is completed, the court will order the parties to appear before the Early Settlement Panel (ESP). The purpose of the ESP is to try to work out a fair and equitable resolution of your matter without the need for a trial. Most New Jersey divorce cases are settled as opposed to being tried. This is because litigation is expensive, both financially and emotionally. To ease financial and emotional strain upon litigants, the divorce system encourages settlements. Click here for more information on the New Jersey Early Settlement Panel program.
Trial or Uncontested Hearing
Regardless of whether a settlement is reached at the ESP, a final hearing is always necessary in a divorce. If a settlement is reached, for example, then the final hearing is referred to as an “uncontested” hearing. Uncontested hearings are scheduled at the request of the parties, and typically last less than an hour, depending on the court’s schedule.
If the parties cannot reach a settlement on any or all of the issues, then a trial is held. Trials are usually several days in length, but may require weeks or even months depending on the complexity of the issues and the court’s trial calendar. After the court hears all of the testimony from the parties and expert witnesses, the Court will issue it decision and Judgment of Divorce.
Contact Morris, Downing & Sherred Today
You do not have to go through the divorce process on your own. Whatever unique challenges you face, we are ready to help you. Contact our Newton offices or call us at 973-383-2700 today to schedule a confidential consultation and learn more.