What Does the Divorce Process Look Like in New Jersey?
If you are facing the New Year with the challenge of a divorce ahead of you, you’re about to begin the process of ending your marriage and creating a new life for yourself. As with any important endeavor, preparation is key. While people experience divorce differently, with issues and circumstances unique to them, there are some common elements that can demystify the process and help you envision your path forward. While the process may not always be easy, working with an experienced family lawyer can make things go as smoothly as possible and help you navigate the challenges ahead.
How Does the Divorce Process Begin?
Technically the divorce process begins when you or your spouse file a Complaint for Divorce, typically in the county where you live. That filing ultimately triggers various deadlines the Court sets to move you case forward to conclusion. Also, once you file a Complaint, if points of controversy arise while your case is pending, a party can file a court application or Motion, asking the Judge assigned to your case to resolve the interim conflict.
Under certain circumstances, it may make sense to try to negotiate the resolution of some of your open issues before filing a Complaint. Those terms can be reached either directly between you and your spouse; through your attorneys; at mediation—and very often through a combination of all the above methods. However, even if you successfully resolve all of your issues, you or your spouse will need to file a Complaint at some point so that you can get divorced.
What Issues Are Resolved in a Divorce?
A general overview of some of the basic issues (or claims) that may be addressed in a divorce are:
- Custody and Parenting Time, which generally refers to arrangements to be made for any children born of the marriage.
- Alimony, which is financial support that may be due from one spouse to another depending on the circumstances.
- Child Support, which is financial support any children.
- Equitable Distribution, which refers to New Jersey’s method of distributing assets and liabilities in a divorce. In New Jersey, a distribution of assets and liabilities is not automatically done equally. Instead, Courts distribute assets and liabilities in a manner that is equitable under the circumstances of the marriage. The list of considerations when determining equitable distribution is long but includes income, future earning capacity, age, the property that each partner brought to the marriage, and the couple’s standard of living during the marriage, among other factors.
How Do I Get the Information I Need So I Can Settle My Case?
Most divorces include a process referred to as “discovery” where there is either a formal or informal exchange of information relevant to the disputed issues between you and your spouse. This process can include an exchange of income information, investment and account information, property deeds, and other information as may be required by the circumstances of your case. In some matters, experts may be hired as part of the discovery process. Family law experts include custody and parenting time evaluators as well as financial experts who value business interest, real estates, valuables, retirement assets, among other assets. In some cases, usually toward the end of a discovery process, there may even be depositions, where a party or witness answers questions under oath. Discovery can be an overwhelming process but your lawyer will help you decide what information you need and the best way to obtain it.
How Do I End My Case?
First it is important to know, you can settle your case at any point. Once you and your spouse reach an agreement on all open issues, your attorneys will draft a settlement agreement called a Matrimonial Settlement Agreement, or an MSA. From there a “uncontested hearing” is scheduled where a Judge will officiate your divorce and incorporate your MSA into the resulting Judgment of Divorce. If the path to settlement is not immediate, the Court does build in several mandatory mediation events to encourage resolution. While most divorce cases in New Jersey do resolve by settlement, if the parties cannot reach an agreement, the case will proceed to trial and a Judge will decide the outcome.
Hiring an Experienced Family Lawyer
Whether it’s an amicable separation or a contentious and lengthy undertaking, ending a marriage can be a complex process. Hiring an experienced family lawyer is not only essential to getting the outcome you want, it is the most important decision you can make when it comes to your divorce.
At Lazor Rantas, we have many years of experience helping people get the best results from their divorce. Contact us today by calling 973-457-8844 or filling out the form below and get started on your new life today.