Contested Divorce

Jacobs Berger Divorce Preparation Attorneys Morris County, NJ

Morris County Contested Divorce Attorneys

Strategic constructive solutions to preserve your future in a contested divorce

Divorce in New Jersey is never a straightforward or easy process to go through, but contested divorce—where the two parties can’t reach an agreement on their divorce settlement—can be especially challenging.

The divorce process marks a series of critically important financial and familial decisions that ultimately need to be made with your life beyond divorce in mind.

The experienced contested divorce attorneys at Jacobs Berger can use their understanding of the issues at hand to reach constructive resolutions—and help build a good foundation for your future.

Understanding Contested Divorce

Contested divorce refers to a process where the parties disagree on all or some of the matters of a divorce settlement, such as the division of assets, parenting time and visitation, child support, alimony, and more.

There are two ways to reach a point of contested divorce. First, a divorcing couple may end up in a contested divorce if they decide they can’t work through some or all of their issues through negotiation by their lawyers or through mediation (explained below).

Secondly, contested divorce may arise from how a divorce is filed. When a spouse files for divorce with the court, the other spouse has thirty-five days in which to respond to the divorce complaint.

If they don’t respond at all, the divorce is considered uncontested and the party who failed to respond in time is considered in default. If the spouse who didn’t respond doesn’t find a way to get out of default, that party doesn’t get to participate in the decision-making process. Instead, settlement decisions are made by the party who filed, their attorney, and a judge.

While an uncontested divorce may sound easier, the no-response method isn’t the recommended way to get there. The terms of a divorce settlement can have major financial and emotional implications, and it’s important to engage in the process. If you receive a divorce complaint, we strongly recommend talking to a contested divorce attorney to understand your options and form a plan for response.

However, contested divorce doesn’t need to be the endless battle it’s often represented as on television and it doesn’t mean that during the process, the divorce can’t be converted into an uncontested divorce.

In addition to having an experienced divorce attorney on your side, it’s also valuable to understand that there are many different ways to resolve a contested divorce without the process being contentious, embattled, time-consuming, and stressful.

Staying Out of the Courtroom

A contested divorce doesn’t mean you’ll need to go to court. There are a number of approaches to resolving contested divorce before courtroom litigation becomes necessary, including:


A couple may be able to work through their divorce process through a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) known as mediation. In mediation, the divorcing couple works with a neutral third party, and typically divorce attorneys, to negotiate the conditions of their settlement agreement.


Arbitration is similar to mediation but here, the neutral third party makes decisions for the couple, which are binding.

Pre-trial negotiations

Described in more detail below in the “Pretrial Early Settlement Panel” section, pre-trial negotiation is similar to arbitration but can occur between the lawyers and in the court process but the recommendations aren’t binding.

Divorce & Litigation

Should litigation become necessary in order for you and your spouse to reach a final divorce settlement agreement, the following steps will take place:

1) Discovery

In discovery, both spouses must fully and accurately disclose all relevant financial information, including:

  • Bank statements
  • Loan and credit card statements
  • Income tax returns
  • History of purchases and expenses
  • Other relevant financial information

If you think your spouse is hiding or only partially disclosing financial information in the discovery process, tell your contested divorce attorney. Then, they can file necessary motions or take other permissible action to ensure full disclosure and earn you the fairest possible settlement in terms of alimony, child support, and asset division.

2) Pretrial Early Settlement Panel

After discovery has concluded, a divorcing couple is given another opportunity to resolve their matter by settlement without a final ruling from a judge through a Pretrial Early Settlement Panel, commonly known as ESP. This process provides the parties with recommendations based on the evidence presented, in a manner similar to arbitration and mediation processes.

While not legally binding, many people choose to agree to the recommendations of the panel.

3) Economic Mediation

If the divorcing parties don’t come to an agreement in the Early Settlement Panel, they must then attempt Economic Mediation. In this process, a neutral mediator works with the parties and their attorneys.

Each side submits an Economic Mediation Statement (often what was submitted in the Early Settlement Panel or any additional settlement offers/discussions that have occurred since then) that outlines their positions for settlement. The mediator then attempts to help the parties come to a workable solution for everyone, which may involve group discussion or the mediator going back and forth between parties and their attorneys.

The mediator has no personal investment in the outcome—and nothing to gain. Therefore, it’s sometimes easier for people to trust the mediator in guiding the outcome to a fair resolution.

4) Intensive Settlement Conference

Some New Jersey counties require an Intensive Settlement Conference (commonly known as ISC) as a last step before going to trial. In an Intensive Settlement Conference, the divorcing parties and their attorneys spend a day in court trying to come to an agreement one last time.

The judge is typically part of this process as a guide or to help facilitate discussions about what an ultimate outcome could look like for the family, although the judge isn’t allowed to make rulings or take final positions. In some counties, the ISC takes place with a family judge other than the one to which your case is assigned in order to further assist the parties with settlement negotiations.

5) Trial

Ultimately, if there are still unresolved issues, the couple’s divorce settlement will have to be decided in court by a family court judge. Each party’s attorney will present facts and argue findings and positions before the judge makes a decision.

Both the family court system and our law firm encourage parties to find other ways to resolve their divorce rather than relying on a trial, but the fact of the matter is that courtroom litigation is necessary in some situations.

Once a judge has made a ruling on the matters that remain unresolved, the ruling is final and can only be altered through a formal appeal or modified if and when circumstances change substantially.

Regardless of how you arrive at a point of contested divorce, having the services of an experienced contested divorce attorney on hand becomes paramount. This is especially key because in between all of these steps, your attorney can work with your spouse and/or your spouse’s attorney to resolve your outstanding issues, or some of them, at least, before the next step or, ultimately, trial.

Whether working toward a less contentious resolution or arguing your case before a judge, you need someone with extensive knowledge of New Jersey laws and precedent, as well as experience in navigating the court system in Morris County and beyond.

How Child Custody Works During a Contested Divorce

Determining child custody during a contested divorce can be an extremely challenging process, as each parent may have a different notion of what is best for the child(ren).

With the support of an experienced contested divorce attorney, you can reach a resolution with your spouse without drawing your child(ren) into the stress and tension of arguments between parents.

In New Jersey, the court makes child custody decisions based on what it believes is in the child(ren)’s best interest(s).

The court believes that a child benefits from having a relationship with both parents, and prefers joint legal custody of a child when possible. The court also favors the child spending time with both parents. In cases where one spouse becomes the primary custodial parent, the other spouse is likely to enjoy parenting time.

The method for how a judge, arbitrator, or other legal representative will make recommendations or decisions about child custody depends on the facts of the case and not whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. However, in certain custody matters, a mental health expert may become involved to perform an evaluation to inform custody decisions or rulings.

Parental Alienation

In particularly contentious cases, it’s important to be aware of the potential for and guard against parental alienation.

Alienation occurs when one parent, through lies, manipulation, or other means, attempts to disrupt the child’s relationship with the other parent.

While often done without understanding the potential harm to the child, because it prevents the child from having a positive relationship with both parents, if found to exist by the court, it can have a negative effect on the court’s decisions regarding custody and parenting time.

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our contested divorce attorneys can draw on years of experience to help you navigate child custody issues during your contested divorce. We understand that parents care deeply about the well-being of their children and can work with you to find a creative solution that doesn’t draw your child into the divorce proceedings.

How Alimony and Child Support Work During a Contested Divorce

Alimony, also known as spousal support, and child support are awarded differently in New Jersey.

The state has a set formula for determining child support. While there are certainly exceptions, it’s usually more difficult to drastically alter the amount of child support one party is obligated to pay the other. Even prenuptial agreements in New Jersey can’t dictate terms of child support though they can guide definitions of income and assets which impact the calculation of child support.

However, New Jersey doesn’t have a set policy when it comes to alimony.

Instead, the courts consider a number of factors, including child support, standard of living, length of the marriage, debt, assets, and a supported spouse’s ability to reenter the workforce, as well as their earning capacity.

New Jersey has several different kinds of alimony, and payments can be scheduled to reduce over time as the supported spouse gains work experience and training.

Alimony can also be modified or ended in response to significant financial changes experienced by either party.

A divorce and family law attorney can guide you through the process of reaching a settlement agreement that addresses alimony and child support concerns. At Jacobs Berger, our contested divorce attorneys have extensive experience in litigating and negotiating these matters, according to what makes sense for a client’s individual situation.

How Distribution of Assets/Liabilities Works During a Contested Divorce

The distribution of marital assets and liabilities during a contested divorce depends on a myriad of factors, including what steps, if any, have been taken by either spouse to preserve certain assets under individual ownership.

Generally, assets acquired over the course of the marriage are considered jointly owned.

Courts in New Jersey will typically prefer to divide these assets equitably, though not necessarily equally.

There are grounds for exceptions, however. As mentioned above, the process of full discovery becomes especially important in dividing assets.

Because of the complexity of determining asset division, especially in high net worth divorces, experienced legal advice is highly recommended to anyone going through this process.

Since Morris County and the rest of New Jersey don’t have set guidelines, a skilled attorney can make a critical difference.

What Separates Jacobs Berger From Other Law Firms

At Jacobs Berger, our founding partners have been selected as Rising Stars and Top 100 of the New Jersey Super Lawyers list, as published by Thomas Reuters—and they’ve also been honored in NJ Family Magazine as “New Jersey’s Best Lawyers for Families.”

Our family law attorneys at Jacobs Berger are experienced with litigated divorce.

We also pride ourselves on being able to find constructive and creative solutions to even the most difficult of divorces, allowing our clients to resolve their contested divorce in a manner that protects the entire family’s financial and emotional stability.

By drawing on this approach and our extensive experience working with clients and their families, our firm is ideally suited to help you to resolve your contested divorce—including without unnecessarily expensive and contentious courtroom litigation.

Contact us today for a strategic planning session and solutions that protect the financial and emotional stability of you and your family.