Services / Domestic Violence
The lawyer for the person seeking the divorce will file a formal document called a complaint with the appropriate court. This complaint includes information on the marriage, residency, present living arrangements, children of the marriage, previous court actions (if any) relating to the marriage, and the specific cause claimed for seeking the divorce. A copy of the complaint will be served on the spouse either by mail or in person by the sheriff, or on the spouse's attorney.
In most cases, we will discuss important matters at your first appointment, including:
- The possibility of solving marital problems through counseling;
- Assistance to you as a parent in meeting your children's needs;
- Dissolving the marriage by divorce;
- Legal residency;
- Financial matters involving child support, alimony, real estate and personal property;
- Domestic relations;
- Legal rights of the parties;
- Court procedures;
- Procedures in the lawyer's office for handling the case; and
- Legal fees and court costs.
Under New Jersey law, a divorce may be granted for any of the following causes:
- Willful and continued desertion for 12 or more months. Either physical or refusal to have sexual relations with the other spouse may establish this cause.
- Extreme cruelty, including any physical or mental cruelty that endangers your safety or health, or which makes continued living together improper or unreasonable. The law requires, however, that no complaint for extreme cruelty can be filed with the court until at least a month after the last act of cruelty listed in the complaint.
- Separation, if separate and different places of living have been maintained for at least 18 consecutive months or more and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
- Voluntary induced addiction or habituation to a narcotic drug or habitual drunkeness for 12 or more consecutive months.
- Mental illness that resulted in the spouse being kept in an institution for 24 or more consecutive months after the marriage was begun.
- Imprisonment of the spouse for 18 or more consecutive months after the marriage was begun. This cause for divorce can only be charged after the defendant's release from prison only if the husband and wife have not resumed living together after the imprisonment ended.
- Deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed by the defendant without the consent of the spouse. Incompatibility is not grounds for divorce in New Jersey.
You should consult an attorney for advice right away if your spouse has filed for divorce. You may contest the reason claimed for the divorce, child custody, support, alimony, and/or property division by filing the proper papers and appearing in court. If you do not contest any part of your spouse's complaint and if you do not want to say anything to the judge, the case will be decided by default. However, you will be bound by the judge's decision. Failure to follow the court orders could result in contempt-of-court proceedings against you. Even if you and your spouse have reached an agreement on support, alimony, property distribution, or other issues, each of you should seek a review of the agreement by your own independent attorney. We will let you know what your rights are, the choices you can make and any possible consequences of actions you might take.
The time it takes to get a divorce depends on many factors, including the degree to which you and your spouse have agreed on related matters and on the current backlog of matrimonial cases in your county. Your lawyer can offer some general guidance on the length of the delay that you might expect in your divorce. A general guide, however, is that if the divorce is uncontested, a final court ruling will take three to four months. If aspects of the case are contested, a final decision may take anywhere from eight or nine months to several years depending on the complexity of the case and the backlog in your county.
If it is necessary, the court can make temporary decisions about:
- Custody of minor children;
- Alimony and child support;
- Who will live in the home that you and your spouse shared;
- Disposal of property to ensure payments of support or to protect a spouse's share in the property;
- Visitation rights for the spouse who does not have physical custody of the children; and
- Any other matter at the request of a spouse or because the judge believes it will be in the best interest of the children of the parties.
After all of the papers are filed, there is usually a delay of several months before a judge can hear the case. During this time, the attorneys for both sides try to help the parties settle financial questions and other differences. The husband and wife may sign a written statement agreeing to a particular division of marital property and financial obligations. This document may also include the wishes of the husband and wife concerning child custody, support and alimony. The court will send parents to a custody mediation seminar if these issues are in dispute. Mediators are available to assist parents in resolving custody and visitation issues. You and your spouse will also have to attend court for an early Settlement Planning Hearing. You, your attorney, your spouse, and your spouse's attorney will have the opportunity to present your position on the economic issues to one or two experienced matrimonial attorneys for a recommendation as to how the case should settle. These attorneys volunteer their services to the court and have no interest in the outcome of any particular case. We can provide you with more information on the utilization of the Early Settlement Panel.
The welfare of minor children is of major concern to the court. Property rights and rights of the adults involved are secondary. Neither parent is entitled to custody of any children automatically. The judge will consider many factors that will be discussed in court at a hearing, including the age and sex of the children, compatibility with each parent, ability of the parent to care for the children, and the personal conduct of each parent.
In New Jersey each spouse is entitled to a fair share of all property acquired during the marriage. The judge will decide on an "equitable distribution" of property after hearing testimony. Equitable distribution is not necessarily a 50%-50% division because New Jersey laws do not establish "community problem".
When the judge issues an order declaring that a marriage has ended under the laws of New Jersey, the divorce is final. Not necessarily. After a divorce is final, charges in some arrangements (such as custody, visitation, and support) may be reconsidered if either party can show a judge that situations have changed. A modification in financial arrangements may be called for if there have been changed circumstances that substantially hurt the dependant spouse's ability to maintain the standard of living which was reflected in the original decree. Criteria that may influence the court to order a modification might include inflation, a decrease or increase in the supporting spouse's income, illness, disability, the decision of the dependant spouse to live with another person or a new job. Be aware, though, that each individual case will be considered on income, assets and need. Recent laws concerning probation and child support obligations create substantial rights for the parent receiving child support.