Q. What are the grounds for divorce in New Jersey?
A. According to statute, the grounds are: irreconcilable differences causing a breakdown of the marriage for a period of six months with no prospect of reconciliation, adultery, willful and continued desertion for a period of twelve months or more, extreme cruelty (mental or physical), separation of 18 months, voluntarily induced addiction or habituation to any narcotic drug or habitual drunkenness for a period of 12 or more consecutive months, institutionalization for mental illness for a period of 24 consecutive months or more, imprisonment of the spouse for 18 or more consecutive months without cohabitation after release, and deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed without the consent of the other spouse. Your specific facts will determine what are appropriate grounds for you.
Q. Where do I file for divorce?
A. Generally in the county where you reside but there may be a reason to file in the county where the spouse resides or the children reside.
Q. Do I have to be a resident of New Jersey to file here?
A. Yes, one of the spouses must be a resident unless there is an exception that allows the filing to take place here.
Q. What if my spouse hurts or threatens me?
A. Since 1991, New Jersey has a very strong prevention against domestic violence statute. The occurrence of one or more of the following upon a person protected by the act may constitute domestic violence: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment and stalking. A party may be removed from the residence by a court order on a temporary basis and the order may be continued at a final hearing. Violations of the order even a temporary order are very serious.
Q. What if my spouse refuses to pay the bills… takes an asset…threatens to take the children?
A. You may be able to ask for help from the court. Many times these actions are the result of high emotions. If the parties make a decision to work out the parenting and financial details, the level of hostility and the final costs will be greatly diminished. Any court appearance will take you away from work and cause additional expense if you have attorneys. There may not be another option but exploring all avenues is the best way before you proceed to court action.
Q. How long does divorce cost and how long does it take?
A. A litigated divorce is the most expensive. The longer you are on the court docket the more your divorce will cost. The cost depends a great deal on the process you select. With the help of professionals the more a couple can talk, the less time and money will be spent. There are many stories floating around the courthouse of couples that dissipated all their assets while they battled. Using common sense and following your attorney’s advice will shorten the time considerably. Pick a process such as mediation or collaboration, if you can before you file for divorce, to start working on an agreement from the beginning instead at the tail end. You can avoid months of waiting and required court appearances only to finally reach an agreement because you are faced with a trial that you cannot afford and did not want in the first place. 99% of all divorces are settled by an agreement. Away from the court, you can schedule confidential meetings when it is most convenient to you and you can negotiate in a private setting, instead of in a corridor at the courthouse. If you can participate in mediation or collaboration, you will get there faster, less expensively and reach an agreement that will be more thoughtful and responsive to your needs.
Q. What if my spouse has committed adultery?
A. That can be very hurtful. Some feel that it should be an automatic bar to alimony. That is rarely the case. The court however may consider other factors. For instance, there may be an impact on the amount or duration of alimony. The emotional component can be a very damaging though understandable and may sometimes motivate a spouse to be spiteful because of his or her anger. Counselling may be helpful to help the aggrieved spouse make good decisions for the future.
Q. What if my spouse won’t agree to a divorce?
A. You don’t need your spouse’s consent to file for divorce. By filing a complaint for divorce, your spouse is put on notice that you intend to move to dissolve your marriage. If you and your spouse fail to reach an agreement, ultimately a judge will make all the decisions as to support, custody, parenting time and distribution of assets and liabilities. Besides the cost of a trial, most people do not want a perfect stranger to decide such important things in their lives. Your spouse may not be able to accept the divorce today but with time, your spouse may understand that it will take place and being part of the decision is helpful for everyone. There are professionals who can assist in this very important transition so that the family in the long run benefits. If you have children, you will be giving them a legacy. Would you rather they walk away with scars from a bitter divorce or in the future , speak highly of parents who handled this very difficult time with respect for each other and concern for their children?
Q. Am I able to use the same legal representative as my spouse?
The answer is no. This would constitute a conflict of interest and is contrary to an attorney’s code of ethics, even if the divorce is not being contested.
Q. How can I file an uncontested divorce?
An uncontested divorce can be filed if there are no issues being contested by either party. This means that all issues, e.g. the house, financial assets and liabilities, custody of the children including parenting time, payments for alimony and child support, and everything else has been resolved satisfactorily between the spouses. How you reach a couple reaches settlement varies. You can come to an agreement together, at the kitchen table, through mediation by the use of collaborative attorneys. If you use the Kitchen Table method or mediation, you should strongly consider having the agreement reviewed or prepared by an attorney. It will be a court order if made a part of your divorce. Make sure the agreement is complete and you understand its legal consequences.
Q. Should I seek help asking for changes to my divorce agreement?
If you are looking to make changes to your divorce agreement or decree, you will need to petition the court or reach an resolution with your ex-spouse. If you were involved in litigation previously, you may not want to return to a court setting. You may consider using a mediator or collaborative attorneys. In either case, it is critical to find a qualified attorney to help you select the right process and assist you with correct revisions.
Q. Are there advantages to legal separation?
A legal separation is an option when spouses want to physically separate, but have other reasons why they want or need to stay married. A couple may choose legal separation instead of divorce because of religion (if their religion does not recognize divorce),or financial reasons such as tax advantages, Social Security entitlement or the need for health insurance or lower cost of insurance, etc. In New Jersey, a legal separation is by court order or by contract of the parties. Living apart does not necessarily constitute a legal separation even if it lasts for years. There are some serious ramifications that need you need to consider and are best addressed by a formal written agreement.
Q. After a divorce is final, can child custody or support agreements be altered?
It is the unusual case where parties never revisit one or both of these provisions. Children grow and their needs change. Parents change jobs, lose jobs, or unfortunately become disabled. The circumstances that come to be require parties to address the consequences. It is a wise parent who realizes that these discussions are inevitable. Finding the right way to address these changes is challenging. Seek the attorney who can counsel you and offer reasonable options and alternatives. If all fails, litigation is available for a judge to make the final decision.