Filing of the New Jersey divorce complaint
With every filing of a New Jersey divorce complaint, the party bringing the action (the plaintiff) must allege the grounds for the divorce, state where he or she lives, whether children were born from the marriage, what the plaintiff seeks from the defendant, where the defendant lives (if known). In NJ, the most common plea for divorce is known as irreconcilable differences, which is that the parties experienced these differences for a period of six months or more prior to the filing of the complaint and that there is no prospect of getting back together. Extreme cruelty is another plea that is used in which the plaintiff alleges that the defendant engaged in conduct that the court would deem cruel and can include adultery and domestic violence but does not require the same level of proof as adultery would. Living Separate and Apart for a period of 18 months or more is another. Once you decide which reason to use, your lawyer will prepare additional papers that are requrd.
Court Fees and Process Service
The divorce filing fee to the State of New Jersey is $250 without children and $275 if custody/child support are issues. Upon providing the court with the fee and the necessary paperwork (divorce complaint, non-collusion, affidavit of insurance, notice of ADR, affidavit of non-military service), the defendant must be served with the summons and divorce papers. The method to which the defendant is served is very important. In New Jersey, a defendant cannot be served via mail except if you receive an order from the Court permitting you to do so. In New Jersey, personal service is required on the defendant. Once service has been completed, proof of such service must be sent to the Court. The Defendant has 35 days to answer the divorce complaint in writing and pay a fee of $135. If you have been served, answer as fast as you can.
After the 35 days and either: no response, or during the 35 days a response
After the defendant has been served and 35 days has elapsed without an answer, the defendant has defaulted and the plaintiff can seek a divorce date outlining what the plaintiff seeks. Certain rules must be followed to receive monetary and other relief. If the rules are followed, the Judge will issue his or her ruling and you will be divorce that day (2-6 months time). If the defendant answered, the case takes a contested track and is harder to finish if the parties do not see eye to eye on their financial and/or custody issues, which is often. The next step is a case management conference which varies greatly from county to county, judge to judge. Working with an attorney that appears frequently before the Judges in your county could save you time and money in the end.
As indicated in section 3, case management conferences vary depending on the county in which your case is filed and which Judge has been assigned to your case. For example, in Hudson County Family Court, the Judges do not require attorneys to appear and the need to appear can be eliminated with a case management order. However, in Essex and Bergen, the Judges may demand an appearance, a memorandum of the issues in dispute, and a case information statement. Testimony is not given by the parties at the case management conference. The Case Management Order and Conference help the Judge understand what the issues are and how much time the parties will be given in the discovery process. During the discovery process, both parties can request extensive information from each side (several years of tax returns, pension values, bank statements, 401k statements, etc).
Early Settlement Conference and New Jersey Motion Practice
Once discovery is complete in a New Jersey divorce, the parties with their attorneys attend the early settlement panel which is a very useful part of the divorce process. In some counties you need an attorney to participate, in others you do not. The early settlement panel consists of between one panel member to up to four who are experienced matrimonial attorneys who will try to help the parties settle the financial issues in their case (custody and parenting time is left to court mediators or the Judge in a motion). These panelists hear both sides and try their best to resolve the issues in the case and if the issues are resolved, the parties can be divorced that day. Before or after the Early Settlement Panel, litigants can bring motions so that certain aspects of the case can be resolved in the short-term (custody, child support, alimony, counsel fees, etc).
Economic Mediation or Trial
If the early settlement panel fails, the next step is economic mediation which is similar to the early settlement panel but is not free and only involves one mediator. If economic mediation fails, then a trial date will be set and the Judge will decide all issues in your case. Not only is a trial expensive but it is also risky at times as the Judge will make a final decision and to change that is extremely difficult. It is important to present your case the right way from the start and try hard to settle the case. If you are considering a divorce or have been served, you can contact my office on 201-706-7910 today.