The path to divorce in New Jersey involves several different steps. For some couples, the terms of divorce are easily resolved in attorney-assisted mediation. Those who find it more challenging to agree on a settlement depend on the courts to settle their disputes. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can make the process go a bit more smoothly.
The plaintiff, or spouse initiating the divorce, files a formal divorce complaint with the courts. The complaint includes both spouses’ names, addresses, where the marriage took place, and other pertinent details. New Jersey offers two grounds for divorce:
- Fault: One spouse’s behavior caused the breakdown of the marriage. Fault can be on the grounds of adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, addiction, institutionalization for mental illness, imprisonment, or deviant sexual conduct.
- No Fault: Separation or irreconcilable differences mean the marriage has dissolved without any hope of reconciliation through no fault of either party.
Answer and Counterclaim
The defendant, or spouse receiving the divorce complaint, responds by either filing an answer or general appearance to the complaint. At this time they will present any counterclaims they seek to bring against the plaintiff. If the defendant chooses not to respond, a separate procedure takes place.
Case Information Statement
Both spouses complete a financial disclosure document called a Case Information Statement (CIS.) These will be used to determine matters of support and distribution of assets later in the process.
With the guidance of a Burlington County divorce lawyer, both spouses work to arrive at a settlement agreement. If they are unable to agree, they participate in an Early Settlement Panel where professionals discuss unresolved marital issues and make recommendations for moving forward. Couples who agree to these recommendations are granted a divorce. Couples who do not accept the panel’s recommendations enter Economic Mediation. Economic Mediation focuses on the financial aspects of the marriage. Couples again can accept or reject an agreement.
Intensive Settlement Conference
If the couple is still unable to agree on a divorce settlement at this point, they must complete one last step before moving to trial. Overseen by the judge and held at the courthouse, the Intensive Settlement Conference involves both spouses and their attorneys. Based on the information provided by the plaintiff and defendant, the judge offers their initial impression of the case. This is a good indicator of how the case would go if moved to trial. If the spouses agree on the judge’s recommendations, they can make the agreement official. If not, they go to trial.
After all prior attempts at mediation have been unsuccessful, it is now up to the courts to decide on the terms of divorce. The court makes their determination and issues a Final Judgement of Divorce.