Divorce Procedures in New Jersey

by Wayne Thomas
New Jersey places importance on the value of settling divorce issues before trial.

New Jersey places importance on the value of settling divorce issues before trial.

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Sometimes when a marriage deteriorates, about the only thing that spouses can agree on is getting a divorce. In New Jersey, the divorce process functions much like a regular lawsuit. However, the pre-trial settlement of issues related to child custody, support and property division is strongly encouraged. To that end, New Jersey requires parties to mediate and attend parent education programs before going before a judge. If spouses can effectively work together to reach common ground and avoid a trial, the conflict and delays in the process can be minimized.

Overview

To initiate the divorce process in New Jersey, one spouse must file a complaint for divorce. Information that needs to be in the complaint includes the date of the marriage, the existence of any minor children and the grounds for divorce. New Jersey has both no fault and fault grounds. No-fault grounds include a period of separation for at least 18 months or the existence of irreconcilable differences. Fault grounds include desertion and extreme cruelty. Once the complaint is filed, notice must be provided to the other party through service of process. Service can be completed in New Jersey by a sheriff or process server, or by mail if the non-filing spouse is willing to acknowledge receipt.

Custody Issues

Parents of minor children have an additional requirement as part of the divorce process in New Jersey and must attend a parent education program and pay a fee. This is a one-time seminar outlining the court process and discussing the needs of children before and after the divorce. If parents cannot agree on custody and visitation, they may be required to attend a custody mediation. While the case is progressing, the parties may file temporary motions, also known as pendente lite motions, to request short-term orders from the court regarding issues related to custody and support.

Financial Issues and Custody

If spouses contest the financial aspects of their divorce, including property division and support, but not custody, the parties may attempt to mediate the matter through the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel. This panel is made up of attorneys who will hear the case and make recommendations for a settlement agreement. If the parties still cannot agree, the court may order Complementary Dispute Resolution, which involves mediation with a mediator from a list supplied by the court or approved by the parties. A separate mediation may also be ordered to resolve custody issues.

Avoiding a Trial

New Jersey places a strong emphasis on the parties settling their differences outside of court. Mediation and similar programs are believed to be beneficial as they keep matters confidential, save both spouses time and money, and allow the parties to be actively involved in the resolution of their case. However, If the spouses still cannot reach agreement on economic and custody related matters after mediation, the case will proceed to trial and be decided by a judge.