For those experiencing marital problems, legal separation is usually the first step in the process of ending the marriage, but it may also represent a cooling off period for those who are not sure whether or not they want the marriage to continue and need time to make the decision.

New Jersey is one of the few states in which legal separation does not need to involve the courts. In New Jersey, there is no need to file a complaint in family court for a legal separation. Two spouses can decide on their own to separate. Most couples, however, will want to file a separation agreement, a legal document which spells out the practical issues and responsibilities facing the separating couple.


A separation agreement addresses the issues pertinent to each couple. If there are children involved, the separation agreement details custodychild support, and parenting, as well as temporary alimony. Issues not relating to children addressed in the separation agreement may include how joint assets and debts are managed, and who is responsible for paying household bills.

Often, couples can agree on the issues between each other, which means there is no need to go to court. When spouses cannot agree on separation agreement terms, a judge must make the decision regarding custody, temporary support and other matters.

Once a separation agreement is signed by both spouses and notarized, it becomes a legally enforceable document.


Under certain circumstances, a court can nullify a separation agreement. This can occur if:

  • The agreement was signed under duress, with one spouse threatened or forced into signing the document.

  • There is considerable bias in the realm of marital asset distribution.

  • The agreement is recognized as unacceptable by any honest standard.

A separation agreement is also nullified if it turns out one of the spouses has committed bigamy, and the marriage is not legal.


Although it is seldom used, New Jersey has another legal option for separating couples. This is divorce from bed and board, and it enables couples to resolve many of the issues normally addressed in a divorce situation without a formal divorce. That includes child custody and similar issues, as well as the division of marital assets and alimony. Most couples eventually want either a divorce or reconciliation, since divorce from bed and board does not permit either spouse to legally remarry.  This is an option for those whose religion does not permit divorce, but their marriage has irretrievably broken down.


New Jersey does not require legal separation before a spouse files for divorce. If the spouses have lived apart for at least 18 months, it is possible to file for divorce based on separation. Spouses who do not want to wait 18 months to file for a divorce must file based on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, which does not require the prior 18-month separation.


After a separation, there are some spouses who decide to give their marriage another try rather than divorce. Since there is no legal separation in New Jersey, it is simply a choice of getting back together.