You’ve made the decision to divorce, so what can you expect next? The divorce process will require you to divide all marital assets and debts, establish alimony and child support if applicable, and determine custody arrangements for your children. To get the process started, you first need to file the appropriate forms and paperwork. Here are seven important steps to take during this initial stage of divorce:
Verify Residency Requirements: In order to be eligible to file for divorce in New Jersey, either you or your spouse must be a resident of New Jersey for at least six months immediately before filing a complaint for divorce. If you or your spouse are in the military and you are stationed in New Jersey, different requirements for military divorce may apply.
Meet with an Attorney: Scheduling a consultation with a highly skilled family law attorney is a step that can be taken as early on in the divorce process as possible. Working with an attorney in your divorce from the outset has distinct advantages. Your attorney will be able to facilitate much of the paperwork and filing steps described here, which then lifts this burden from your shoulders. Having a strong legal strategy in place can also help you feel calm and in control throughout the divorce process. Your attorney will work with you to accomplish this.
Determine the Grounds for Your Divorce: In the Complaint for Divorce, the filing party must provide the ground for divorce, or the reason (or reasons) why the marriage needs to end. The various grounds available in New Jersey are explained here. Weigh your options carefully before choosing one. It may help to know that a majority of couples today chose “irreconcilable differences” as their ground for divorce. There can be advantages to this: because it’s a “no fault” ground, irreconcilable differences does not lay blame for the marriage’s demise on either spouse. This may help to pave the way for more amicable divorce negotiations. Likewise, the non-specific nature of irreconcilable differences can help to protect your privacy should someone seek access to your public divorce records.
Complete the Complaint for Divorce: You can obtain an official Complaint for Divorce by visiting the clerk’s office in your local county courthouse. In the document, you will list the names and addresses of both you and your spouse, the date and place of the marriage, whether the ceremony was civil or religious, the names of any children born or adopted during the marriage, a listing of any previous court proceedings, such as prior domestic violence matters, the ground for divorce you have decided to cite, and other basic information.
Complete Accompanying Paperwork: When filing for divorce, the following forms must accompany the Complaint:
– Confidential Litigant Information Sheet: This includes birthdates and social security numbers and other information that will be kept private from public divorce records.
– Certificate of Insurance Coverage: Listings of life, health, auto and other insurance policies
– CDR Certification: The Complementary Dispute Resolution waiver form indicates that you are aware that out of court divorce resolution methods, including mediation and arbitration, may be available to you.
File Divorce Papers: Return to the Clerk’s office with your paperwork. The filing fee divorce in 2016 is $300. A waiver form is available if this amount will be an economic hardship. (The Clerk can provide you with this form or you can download it from the Judiciary’s website.)
Serve Papers to Your Spouse: Once your Complaint is processed, you will receive a copy in the mail stamped “filed.” Make copies of the paperwork and contact the sheriff’s department to request official service of papers. Once the papers are served, the sheriff will send you proof of service. If you and your spouse are on relatively good terms, sending via certified mail may be preferred. If you know the name of your spouse’s attorney, it is also possible for documents to simply be received by the attorney, who then will give you an “Acknowledgment of Service.”
Your Spouse’s Response: Your spouse has 35 days to respond to served papers. The spouse’s options are to do one or more of the following:
– File an “Appearance,” which means the defendant may object to what the plaintiff is asking for, in terms of custody, support and related issues.
– File an “Answer,” in which the defendant agrees or disagrees to the statements in the complaint.
– File a “Counterclaim,” in which the defendant can state new grounds for the divorce.
What happens next? For a complete overview of the divorce process, see our Divorce Road Map series of infographics.
Have questions about your divorce? Ready to get the divorce process underway? Our team of all-star family law attorneys are here to help. To get started, we encourage you to please take advantage of our initial attorney consultation. See our locations list to find the Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group office nearest you.