The New Jersey Divorce Process
The process of a New Jersey divorce involves several steps, lots of details, and filing official documents with the Superior Court in the county in which you live (Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, etc) Understanding the process of your NJ Divorce will save you time and emotional toll. You and your NJ divorce lawyer should map out a strategy to handle each step of the process ensuring that you have the best possible post-divorce life based on your personal circumstances.
Before you begin the New Jersey Divorce Process, it is critical to hire an experienced NJ Divorce attorney. With your attorney you will review all important information and documents and develop a strategy based on your particular circumstances. This strategy may include alimony/spousal support; personal property, division of debt, money, child custody, child support, parenting and visitation time,
After you fully explain your circumstances to your attorney, there are three basic steps to finalizing your divorce. Right up front I would like to say that 99% of all divorces settle within these first three steps. A skilled attorney will be able to quickly and efficiently work with you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse on an agreement.
Step 1: Complaint for divorce is filed with the Superior Court in your County
This document, filled out and filed by your attorney lets the court know that you are filing for divorce. In addition to your directory information (name, address, etc) it includes the grounds on which you choose to divorce and an Affidavid of Insurance Coverage (a listing of your life, medical, auto, homeowners and other insurance coverages). At this time our office will also send your spouse a letter of introduction encouraging them to retain counsel.
We then go through a process of serving this complaint to your soon to be ex-spouse and his/her attorney, obtaining verification that they have received those papers. Receiving this acknowledgement is essential as the court will want to see proof the other party was served.
At this time we may also handle all Pendente Lite Issues, to put legal protection in place for you for how finances and child custody arrangements are going to be handled through the divorce process.
These steps of this first stage of the New Jersey divorce process are critical. We set the tone of professionalism with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse and his/her legal counsel. Additionally, your divorce lawyer can correctly file all initial paperwork with the court and set-up financial and child custody agreements while your divorce is processed.
Step 2: Case Management
The purpose of Case Management is for the court to get a sense of the general status of your divorce proceeding and helps a judge determine next steps in your case to keep moving it forward. While this is not a time for negotiation, typically these meetings include discussions of issues to be settled (property, child support, alimony, child custody and parenting time), and how negotiations are going to proceed.
These conferences can be conducted in person, or via fax or telephone. Each County handles the Case Management Conference differently. For instance, if you live in Middlesex County, NJ, the Case Management Conference can be done via fax if the lawyers agree. The Monmouth County Court System only allows the lawyers to be involved in the conference. In Ocean County, NJ, both lawyers and the clients must attend.
The result of the Case Management Conference are a series of Case Management Orders which is the courts way of formalizing what needs to be accomplished. This can include the hiring of experts and real-estate appraisals as well as producing required documents.
Step 3: Discovery
The discovery phase of your divorce is when the Case Management orders are followed. It is a time for the divorcing spouses to exchange information on certain matters, such as financial statements and assets. Real estate appraisals are obtained
and questions about your marriage are answered. The court will assign a date when all discovery is to be completed.
During this time you and your attorney will be discussing issues that are being negotiated. Your attorney should be in contact with the other side to resolve these issues and work towards getting you the best possible post-divorce deal for you.
In situations where there are significant assets or issues that cannot be resolved, attorneys may conduct depositions which are formal interviews with one of the spouses or someone who can provide information that is important to the case. During this time each divorcing spouse must also complete a Case Information Statement. This critical document is a complete financial picture including all sources of income, itemized budgets, assets and debts.
If, during this time, with the help of your attorneys you can work out an agreement with your spouse, your paperwork is completed and you can appear in court to finalize the divorce. However, there are some cases where this is not possible due to differences in opinion on how certain details can be handled.
What happens when you cannot agree:
As mentioned, the court has assigned a time frame (with an end date) for the discovery to be completed. If, by that date, you do not have an agreement in place, the court will then set a date for you to appear before an Early Settlement Panel, one of a few programs the courts have set-up to try to get your case settle before having it head to trial.
Early Settlement Panel Program
Should you not be able to reach an agreement on important financial issues, you will appear before an Early Settlement Panel to discuss your case. The divorcing couple and their respective attorneys meet with two impartial experienced divorce lawyers who make recommendations given the facts of the case and the particular circumstances of the divorce. If you and your partner accept the panel’s recommendations a judge may be able to finalize your divorce that day.
I have previously blogged about the Early Settlement Panel Program (ESP), which you can find by clicking here. If you are unable to settle using the Early Settlement Panel Program, you proceed to Economic Mediation.
With the guidance of your attorney, you will select an economic mediator. Based on the financial issues and other information you wish to provide that support your case, the economic mediator will make a set of recommendations on the best way to settle your differences. The details, discussions, and recommendations of the mediator are non-binding, just like the Early Settlement Panel. But, should a couple choose to accept these recommendations, one of the attorneys can draft an agreement.
With trials being time consuming and costly, this is the last step. A judge will hear the facts of your case, including testimony from you, any appropriate witnesses including professional experts. That judge then makes any final decisions for you and your divorce is finalized.
It is the hope of the New Jersey Court system as well as our office that working with you and your spouse an agreement can be reached before these interventions are needed. We take great pride in working efficiently using our expertise to keep your legal costs reasonable and obtain the best possible post-divorce arrangement for your particular circumstances.
Our office operates with the mission of negotiating the fairest deal in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. The goal is to settle on an agreement with your spouse avoiding the three court-offered interventions, especially a long and costly trial. We offer unique solutions to your personal circumstances and work diligently to protect your rights, your children, and finish your divorce as quickly as possible.