Starting Your Journey Through Divorce in New Jersey
Contact our Linden Divorce Attorney today and allow us to help guide you. The decision to divorce is as life-altering as the decision to marry and can trigger a vast array of feelings, ranging from liberation to mourning.
Regardless of the trajectory that led you to this moment in time, you are about to embark upon another journey, one which can alter the course of your life for better or worse, depending on the way that it is navigated and ultimately resolved. So, what now? Where to start? What to expect? This ongoing series will be dedicated to providing you with the information and resources that you need to confront your divorce with a sense of command and confidence. We will address factors such as alimony payments, child custody, child support, and division of assets, while also attending to more practical “need to knows” such as information gathering, steps and forms, and important terms that may arise before, during, and after your proceedings. This week’s focus: putting the wheels in motion, filing the complaint, and accompanying necessary documents, serving your spouse, and what happens next.
How Do I know Who is at Fault?
The first question after making the decision to dissolve your marriage is: who is at fault? In New Jersey, there is a significant distinction between “fault“ and “no-fault” divorces, each of which spells implications for both parties involved. A “no-fault” typically occurs in two types of cases:
- You and your spouse have been living separately for a minimum of 18 months prior to the divorce filing; or
- You cite “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for the divorce, meaning that you and your spouse have been experiencing irreparable disagreements for a minimum of 6 months and have chosen to part ways.
Conversely, a “fault” divorce refers to a situation in which the actions of one spouse have led to the demise of the marriage. Some examples of grounds for a “fault” divorce include desertion, adultery, and extreme cruelty.
What is the Plaintiff and Defendant’s Role?
If you are the party who files for divorce, you are the plaintiff in the case and by default, your spouse becomes the defendant. As the plaintiff, you are required to file the first essential court document, known as the “complaint,” which will include your request for a divorce, as well as any terms that you intend to pursue during the process, including alimony, child custody, child support, or division of assets. You must also inform the court of the grounds for your divorce, several of the most common of which are mentioned above. Notably, if you are citing adultery as grounds for your divorce, you must refer to the other individual involved in the alleged adultery, at which time he or she becomes the “co-respondent.” You must then serve this party with notice of the complaint within 30 days of the initial filing and provide proof of service to the court. The co-respondent is entitled to submit an application intervening in the action if he or she so chooses.
Documents required to start the Divorce Process
The other necessary documents which must be filed at the beginning of the divorce process include:
- A “Certification of Insurance,” which notifies of the court of all of your insurance coverage, including life insurance, medical insurance, homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance, etc.
- A “Confidential Litigant Information Sheet,” which provides the court with your personal information, including gender, date, and location of birth, social security number, and driver’s license number.
- A “Certification of Notification of Complementary Dispute Resolution Form,” which acknowledges that you may resolve your divorce through alternative means such as arbitration and mediation
- A “Family Part Case Information Statement,” which applies in cases where issues involving child custody, child support, alimony, and division of assets must be resolved. This sheet will require you to inform the court of income, assets, debts, and other monetary considerations.
The court will then “file” your complaint and assign it a docket number. When you receive the stamped “filed” complaint from the court, you have 10 days to serve the defendant with a copy of the documents. The defendant can be served in a variety of ways, including through certified mail or through his or her attorney. The defendant is then provided with a 35-day window within which to respond to the filing. This response may include:
- An “Appearance,” which is an affirmative response to the divorce, meaning no objection to the divorce itself, but potentially an objection to the terms that you requested; or
- An “Answer,” which responds to certain assertions made in the divorce complaint and perhaps, includes a “Counterclaim,” with the same or different grounds for the divorce and alternative requests for alimony, child custody, etc.
If the defendant does not respond, the plaintiff can request a “default judgment” based on a previously-reached settlement agreement or proposed agreement. If the defendant does respond, his or her actions will significantly influence your decisions moving forward, raising the topic of “contested” vs. “uncontested divorces,” which we will address in more detail next week.
Overall, the complexities of the divorce process in New Jersey can seem overwhelming, but information is power, and with the help of an experienced divorce lawyer, you can pursue every avenue available to you and achieve a favorable resolution. If you are considering a divorce or have made the decision to begin the divorce process, I am always available to answer your questions.
Consult a Union County NJ Divorce Attorney to Guide You Through the Process
At Law Office of Edward S. Cooper, our attorneys are experienced in supporting clients across Rahway, Clark, Roselle, Roselle Park, Garwood, Elizabeth, and throughout Union County, Essex County, and northern Middlesex County in the entire divorce process, from beginning to end.