Steps in a Divorce Case
There is no “one size fits all” approach to getting a divorce in New Jersey, as every situation is unique. However, there are court rules and procedures that guide litigants through filing the complaint, answering the complaint, and the steps involved in continuing the divorce process. Due to the individual circumstances of each person involved in a particular divorce, the process can take as little as six weeks and as long as a few years.
How does divorce get started?
Any person seeking a divorce can seek the assistance of an attorney, who will draft and file a complaint for divorce. The complaint for divorce is filed with the court and served on the other spouse, who then has 35 days to answer the complaint and file their answer with the court. If the spouse that is served with the divorce complaint fails to file an answer, the party seeking the divorce can request a default judgment after 60 days.
In some circumstances, a couple may have already mediated their divorce or negotiated a divorce settlement before filing the complaint. If so, they may seek the advice of an attorney who will draft the property settlement agreement (PSA) to be filed with the complaint. The PSA outlines precisely how the parties will divide their marital property. It also includes settled-upon terms for child custody, parenting time, alimony, and child support.
If the PSA is done before the complaint is filed, it can be attached to the complaint at the time of divorce filing. In this circumstance, the parties can sign a waiver form advising the court that they wish to forego an answer and enter a judgment based upon the filing and PSA. Thereafter, the court will set a date for the filing party to come to court, attest to the filing and PSA, and obtain a judgment. With this expedited method, the divorce can be completed in approximately 6 weeks.
What happens after the complaint is filed?
Not all cases have property settlement agreements or mediation prior to the filing. In most cases, there are no agreements and the couple must abide by the rules set forth in court. When following the typical divorce procedure, an answer to the complaint must be filed within 35 days. The answer may simply admit or deny the allegations of the person filing or may file a cross-complaint for divorce. If the couple has children, they will be ordered to attend a parenting class, which discusses co-parenting and assisting the children during the divorce process. This class is mandatory and must be completed by both parties or the complaint can be dismissed.
Next, the parties will begin a discovery exchange period. Discovery is the exchange of information between the parties. Both you and your spouse must provide various documents such as bank records, appraisals, receipts, and retirement information. Additionally, your respective attorneys will draft interrogatories, which are questions designed to obtain more information about the assets, the marriage, and any information germane to the marriage and divorce. As you might expect, the discovery phase of a divorce can take many months.
ESP Panel and Divorce Trial
After the complaint is filed and information is exchanged, the parties will go before an Early Settlement Panel (ESP). ESP is a form of non-binding arbitration. Practicing local matrimonial attorneys volunteer on the panel to assist in the settlement of the divorce. These neutral attorneys review the parties’ respective cases and explain to both sides how they believe the court would resolve the matter at a trial. In many cases, the parties can divorce on the date of ESP, provided they can agree on the terms. If no agreement can be reached, the court will refer them to mediation at a later date.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the divorce can drag on for months or even years. Eventually, after approximately 6 months or more, the court will set a trial date. It is important to note that trial dates are often given and postponed, as the parties may not be ready to proceed. Attorneys for either side may request a postponement citing the need for additional discovery. Due to the sheer number of divorces processed in New Jersey courts, a trial date will not be given until all other avenues have been exhausted.
Contact an Experienced Divorce Lawyer Today to Help Guide You Every Step of the Way
If you have divorce-related questions, our attorneys have experience handling all phases of matrimonial law. If you have further questions regarding divorce, we strongly encourage you to schedule a Strategic Planning Session at our Morristown Office. We can advise you on your rights related to property and asset division, alimony, child support, and more.