The New Jersey divorce process can be a Pandora’s box for someone who is unfamiliar to it. Uncertainty and confusion cause unnecessary stress during a divorce, so having at least a basic understanding of the divorce process is important. With less stress and confusion, you’ll be able to move forward with confidence. This is just one reason why hiring professionals who have been there before is imperative.
This article provides a very basic outline of the New Jersey divorce process. I cannot state how important it is for you to consult with an divorce attorney before starting the process. Even if you decide to represent yourself, many attorneys, myself included, offer free, no risk, in person consultations. Why not take advantage today?
The New Jersey Divorce Process
Prepare, File, and Serve Complaint (or Counterclaim) for Divorce
The Complaint for Divorce is what starts the divorce process in court. It is a document that states the “grounds for divorce.” In layman terms, this means the reason for divorce, for example, irreconcilable differences or adultery. The complaint also states what you’re asking for from the divorce. For example, alimony, joint custody, child support, and equitable distribution.
Once the complaint is filed, the Plaintiff (who filed the divorce papers) serves his or her spouse with a summons and filed complaint within 10 days of receiving complaint back from the court. Service is usually done with a process serving company who will then provide Plaintiff with proof of service, which is also filed with the court. The Defendant then has 35 days to respond to the complaint.
The Defendant can respond by filing an appearance or counterclaim. An appearance means that he or she would like to be heard in court on the items that the Plaintiff asked for in the Complaint. A counterclaim asks the court to grant the Defendant things like alimony, child support, etc.
Case Management Conference
Once the parties have filed their papers, the Court schedules a Case Management Conference. The Conference may happen in person, or it can be done by signing a Case Management Consent Order.
The purpose of the Case Management Order is to let the court and parties know exactly what needs to be done in the case. At the end of the Case Management Conference, the Court will file an Order that provides dates and deadlines. For example, if the parties need to have a home valued, the Case Management Order will require the parties to have it valued by a certain date, and will outline who is responsible for the payment. The CMO also states when discovery will be exchanged. If children are involved and custody is an issue, the Court requires the parents to attend parenting time mediation.
Discovery Period Begins
Depending on the complexity of the case, discovery may last between 90 and 120 days. Discovery is the process by which the parties exchange information relevant to the divorce. During discovery you can request things like documents, interrogatories (questions the other party must answer in writing), and depositions. If any assets need valuing, experts may be appointed to conduct a valuation.
Early Settlement Panel and Mediation
After the discovery period, and if the case hasn’t settled, the parties must attend Early Settlement Panel (ESP). At ESP, the parties’ attorneys will present their case to a panel consistenting of two volunteer attorneys. The volunteer attorneys will analyze the case and provide feedback on how they believe the case should settle.
If the parties settle the case that day, they can get divorced then and there by putting the agreement in writing or on the record in front of a judge. If the case does not settle, then the parties are required to attend mandatory mediation. The court appointed mediator provides 2 free hours of work. Thereafter the parties must pay the mediator’s hourly rate if he or she continues to provide services.
Intensive Settlement Conference
If the case is not settled after mediation, the court schedules an Intensive Settlement Conference. ISP is usually an all day event where the parties attempt to settle the case with their attorneys. The judge may assist in the process to help guide the negotiations. If an agreement is reached, it is put in writing and the parties are divorced.
If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the case is scheduled for trial. Trial is usually the option of last resort. At this point, both parties have probably exhausted a lot of time, money, and energy on their case. Before trial. the attorneys must prepare witnesses and evidence. The parties will give testimony, as will other experts and witnesses. After the trial concludes, a judge renders a decision on all of the disputed issues and a final Judgment of Divorce is granted. A party has 45 days to appeal the decision if he or she disagrees with it. It can be a very long time (sometimes years) before a trial concludes and a decision is rendered. Furthermore, there is never a guarantee with how a judge decides a case. Each case is unique. For these reasons, most attorneys strongly encourage parties to settle their case outside of court.
If you have any questions about the New Jersey divorce process, do hesitate to contact my firm to schedule a free consultation. A good resource for more information can be found here: http://www.lsnjlaw.org/Publications/Pages/Manuals/DivorceGuide.pdf