How to Prepare for a Divorce in New Jersey

by Beverly Bird
A picture is worth a thousand words if you want to establish proof of the existence of certain assets.

A picture is worth a thousand words if you want to establish proof of the existence of certain assets.

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Many steps leading up to a divorce are the same regardless of what state you file in. A few common sense approaches can go a long way, and each state's laws are mostly applicable after you get the process started. You can prepare with them in mind, however.

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Put Your Finances Under a Microscope

The court treats your marriage like a financial partnership. At various times during the New Jersey divorce process, you'll be asked to tell the court how much your spouse earns, how much you earn and the extent of your marital assets and debts. If you gather proof of these things prior to filing, your divorce should go more smoothly. You'll need things like mortgage documents, pay stubs, bank records, tax returns and credit card statements -- anything that pertains to your marital finances. You'll need copies for your divorce lawyer, if you hire one, and panelists from the matrimonial early settlement program, which is mandatory in New Jersey. At the MESP, you must present the financial facts of your case to a panel of attorneys who will then make suggestions for settlement. If you don't have copies of this information, you or your lawyer must take steps to get them from your spouse or directly from your financial institutions.

Protect Your Valuables

New Jersey courts make a distinction between marital property and separate property when you divorce, and only marital property is divided between you and your spouse. Your separate property includes anything you inherited or received as a gift, or property you brought into the marriage. Your spouse might have a stake in these things if they appreciate during the marriage, but he would only be entitled to a share of the increase in value. You're within your rights to remove these things to a safe location as you prepare for divorce -- they're yours. You might also want to make a video recording or take photographs of marital property, going room to room, if necessary, so you don't overlook anything. This is your proof of the existence of assets if marital property begins disappearing.

Establish Your Independence

It's never too early to take a few steps toward establishing a life of your own -- this will help you move on as seamlessly as possible when your divorce is final. If you have no credit cards in your name, apply for one – just take care not to max it out before your divorce judgment is finalized. Try to save it for emergencies or as a financial safety net for after your divorce becomes final. Close or freeze joint accounts you hold with your spouse, if possible. Open a bank account in your own name and a post office box. You'll be receiving a lot of mail during your divorce proceedings, from the court and from your attorney, if you decide to hire one. Correspondence from your attorney might include tactical plans or observations and you won't want these falling into your spouse's hands if your divorce is contested.

Get Ready to File

Consult with a lawyer, even if you decide not to retain one to handle your entire divorce. They can help educate you regarding New Jersey law, and it will let you know what you can expect going forward. Make sure you meet the residency requirement for filing – it's one year in New Jersey. The state recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds, so give some thought as to whether it might be easier to file on grounds of irreconcilable differences. Your spouse can't contest irreconcilable differences, but he can fight fault grounds such as adultery or cruelty if you use them. This can prolong your divorce proceedings. If your spouse did have an affair or otherwise exhibited egregious conduct that ended your marriage, this is another good reason to confer with an attorney. Find out if his particular behavior might affect property division or custody and if it would be worth it to file on fault grounds.