If you are considering filing for divorce, it’s a given that you will have questions: How do I file for divorce? Should I file first, or wait for my spouse to serve papers? Do I need my spouse’s consent to get divorced? What will happen to my children, my assets, and my future once papers are filed?
During this challenging time in your life, we understand how easy it is to feel completely overwhelmed. Ready to start moving forward? One of the best first steps in making decisions about divorce is to get educated about your rights and options.
Read on for essentials about the divorce process in New Jersey and how to file, what happens after filing, and the rights you may be entitled to:
Understanding How to Begin the New Jersey Divorce Process
To help with understanding the various steps and stages of filing for divorce in New Jersey, it is important to understand the divorce process, Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group has created this helpful infographic (in a .pdf format) which shows Stage 1 of 7 on Filing a Complaint for Divorce in New Jersey. You can copy or print out the flowchart below by clicking on the graphic and follow along with the explanation that follows below:
Stage 1: Beginning the Divorce Process
STAGE 1 OF 7: Filing For Divorce
Filing a Complaint for Divorce in New Jersey
The first step in a New Jersey divorce action is for one spouse to file a complaint for divorce with the court. Some couples choose to engage in mediation or settlement negotiations first, but one spouse must file a complaint before the court will order a judgment of divorce. The party who files the complaint becomes the plaintiff and the other becomes the defendant. The court will assign a docket number to the case, stamp the complaint with the docket number and the filing date, and then return it to the plaintiff.
If you are the plaintiff, your complaint will include a request for the divorce itself, as well as for any additional relief you are seeking, such as distribution of marital property, alimony, child custody, or child support. It will also include one or more “grounds” for the divorce.
Notice to Co-Respondent When Grounds Include Adultery
If one of the grounds you choose is adultery, you will have to name the other party in the alleged adultery as a co-respondent in the case, serve that party with notice of the complaint within 30 days of filing it, and file an affidavit of compliance with the court. The co-respondent has a right to file an application intervening in the action.
Serving Complaint on Defendant
Within 10 days of receiving the filed complaint back from the court, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with the complaint and a summons and then file proof of service with the court.
The defendant has 35 days to file an appearance or an answer. An answer can also include a counterclaim stating the same or different grounds for divorce and seeking affirmative relief.
If Defendant Does Not Respond
If the defendant does not respond to the complaint within 35 days, the plaintiff can file a request for default judgment. If the parties have a signed settlement agreement, the matter can proceed as an uncontested divorce and the court can enter a judgment of divorce following a default hearing.
If the parties do not have a signed settlement agreement, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with a notice of proposed final judgment 20 days before the default hearing, attaching a case information statement and terms of the proposed settlement. The court will conduct a default hearing and enter a judgment of divorce.
If Defendant Does Respond
If the defendant’s response includes a counterclaim, the plaintiff has 20 days to file an answer. If the parties have minor children together, then once the last responsive pleading (either plaintiff’s answer to the complaint or defendant’s answer to a counterclaim) has been filed, the court will send notices directing each party to attend a parenting program workshop. Unless there is a temporary or permanent restraining order against one parent, both parents must attend. Each will attend the workshop at different times.
After the Initial Pleadings Have Been Filed
The case will then continue through some or all of the additional 7 stages of the New Jersey Divorce Process. To get more information on all stages we have information under: New Jersey Divorce Road Map.
How do I start filing for a divorce in New Jersey?
The traditional way of starting a divorce in the state of New Jersey is to file a complaint with the courthouse. So what you need to do essentially is to create a package. A lawyer knows how to do it very simply, but if you were to do it on your own, ultimately, you need the complaint for divorce itself. In the complaint, you give a lot of information about you, your spouse, if you have children, where you live, and other types of information, but most importantly, you need to choose a ground for divorce.
What is that? Irreconcilable differences, which essentially are just a breakdown of the relationship for a period of at least six months, extreme cruelty, adultery, ultimately, you can choose any of the grounds. It could be separation for a period of at least 18 months, habitual drunkenness, it could be incarceration. There’s a whole host of grounds that you can select from. You don’t have to just choose one, in fact, you can choose many, but you need at least one ground in order to file your complaint. There are other documents that go with your complaint for divorce too and those are required to be attached to this package, and the court needs them to be attached, otherwise, your complaint will not be accepted by the court. When you file that complaint, that’s how the court recognizes that you exist as a new case. They affix a docket number, which essentially is your case number, and that’s how the court knows who you are and how to recognize you when you come to the court into the future.
If you are reading this information, whether you are considering filing for divorce or your spouse has already filed, we know that this is a challenging time for you. We can help. Call us to schedule an initial consultation: