Call Us Today! (973) 447-3943

Four Things You May Encounter During the New Jersey Divorce Process

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Getting divorced is stressful enough without the added stress of not knowing what to expect. No two divorces are the same, and there’s no way to predict exactly how your divorce proceedings will go. 

Having said that, the good news (yes, we are calling it that) is that there are some commonalities often experienced by people going through a divorce. Knowing the legal lingo and key steps in the process can help you redirect your emotional and mental energy from trying to master these components to the decisions you need to make for your long-term future.

1. The pleadings process

A divorce pleading is a “formal document filed with the court that states the parties’ basic positions.” Your attorney is responsible for filing pleadings on your behalf, but they will need your help to gather and document all the information needed for each pleading.

There are many types of pleadings, including complaints, answers, replies, counterclaims, and motions. 


A complaint is a pleading that, once filed, starts your case. Whoever files the complaint in a divorce case is known as the petitioner or, more commonly, the Plaintiff. 

Divorce complaints detail whether or not your divorce is contested (e.g. whether a Settlement Agreement has already been signed), what your grounds for divorce are, and list the specific issues (i.e., custody, equitable distribution, spousal support, etc.) in your case the judge needs to address. This is also commonly known as the relief you are seeking. 

While filing a complaint will officially start your case in the judicial system, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the first thing you do. In some cases, it may make sense to negotiate your full divorce settlement (sometimes with the help of a mediator (or just your attorneys) before your complaint is actually filed. In others, having the weight of court deadlines may help you keep your divorce on track. Experienced family law attorneys can help you make the right decision for your specific situation.


The person who is served a divorce complaint is known as the respondent or, more commonly, the Defendant. In New Jersey, a respondent has 35 days to file an answer to the complaint. An answer tells the court you’ve received the complaint and explains the parts of the complaint you agree with and the parts you don’t. 


If a respondent in a divorce case may disagree with some of the claims their former partner made in the complaint, they have the option to file a counterclaim. 

Filing a counterclaim goes beyond disputing facts from the divorce petition—it establishes your own complaint. In addition to answering the claims in the original complaint, you can raise your own claims and ask the court to grant you relief. 

Notice of appearance

These pleadings inform the court that you are participating in the case. During a notice of appearance, you may present a list of issues you want to be heard on, such as alimony or child support matters. But unlike other types of pleadings, you aren’t making specific claims. 

Final judgment of divorce

A final judgment of divorce, also known as a divorce decree, formalizes the terms you and your ex negotiated during the divorce process. Once this pleading is entered, your divorce is final. 

There are some nuances to note about final judgments: If one party files and the other defaults or only files an answer or notice of appearance, the divorce is solely entered on the complaint. However, if the other party files a counterclaim and the court finds grounds on both sides, a dual judgment of divorce is entered. 


A motion is a written request or proposal to the court. It seeks to obtain a desired order, ruling, or direction. Different types of motions exist, and it is common practice to file specific motions based on the nature of the case. 

Motions specific to divorce cases might include: 

  • Motion for Pendente Lite Relief (means “awaiting the litigation” in Latin)
  • Motion to compel discovery  
  • Motion to modify or enforce the final divorce order or prior orders of the court

2. Documentation, documentation, documentation

Providing documentation that supports your overall claims and counterclaims, and the nuanced claims within the broad categories, is the best way to reduce the amount of miscommunication during your divorce. 

As you prepare, it’s a good idea to organize your documents by type in a central location. Electronic files can be stored in a folder on your computer and then backed up on an external hard drive. If you have a lot of paper files, it will help you (and your lawyer) if you assemble them all in a filing storage box (and make copies of the most important documents). If you can scan the paper and transfer the files electronically, this will make your legal team very happy. 

Financial documents

Financial documents, such as pay stubs, bank statements, credit card statements, mortgage statements, statements from retirement accounts, tax returns, etc., are critical to establishing and dividing your financial assets.

One of the most important financial documents in an NJ divorce case is known as the Case Information Statement, or CIS. A CIS details all your financial information and should document, among other things, your income from all sources, joint and individual lifestyle expenses, lifestyle expenses for your children, retirement savings and investments, owned property, and loan debt.

It’s important to be open and honest with your attorney while working on your CIS because the information you supply plays a key role in determining things like spousal and child support. Willfully hiding assets will affect the credibility of your other claims, while failing to identify errors or inaccuracies on your ex’s CIS may impact the settlement you hope to receive.


Proofs are admissible evidence demonstrating the veracity of your claims. They can come in many forms, such as:

  • video
  • emails
  • photographs
  • copies of text or voice messages
  • eyewitness accounts from family and friends

Make sure to only include proofs that are both relevant to your case and comply with the rules of court.


Any documentation that isn’t financial or a proof usually falls under the category of records. This can include things like:

  • medical records
  • police reports
  • criminal histories 
  • driving records 
  • school transcripts
  • memberships

These records, to name just some of those you might encounter in your matter, can all be used to support claims or counterclaims as long as they are pertinent to the issue at hand.

3. Mediation

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is frequently used in divorce proceedings. Some divorcing couples choose to privately mediate their entire divorce and present the judge with their settlement, while others only participate in court-mandated mediation sessions.

Either way, a trained mediator can help you (and your legal team) minimize the emotional upheaval associated with a divorce trial and tailor your divorce to your needs and concerns rather than putting the process solely in the hands of the courts. As an unbiased third party, a mediator works to keep all parties communicating and focused on realistic solutions.

Economic mediation

Economic mediation is a court-mandated mediation session wherein a divorcing couple meets with a neutral third party to try and resolve any of the outstanding financial issues in the divorce. The primary goal of economic mediation is to reach a settlement together and avoid litigation. In New Jersey, the first two hours of economic mediation are complimentary.

Custody and parenting time mediation

The court will mandate a mediation session if parents are struggling to agree on a custody arrangement and parenting time schedules unless they have a signed custody and parenting time agreement. There is no charge associated with these court-mandated mediation sessions.

Both court-ordered economic and custody/parenting time mediation sessions are confidential and non-binding, meaning neither party is obligated to accept the mediator’s recommendations unless they become part of the final marital settlement agreement. Note that unmarried parents with custody and child support issues can also go to custody and parenting time meditation—but this is not tied to a marital settlement agreement.

4. Court appearances

Just stepping foot inside a courthouse can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Court appearances are designed specifically to help you complete the divorce process as quickly and peacefully as possible.

Case Management Conference

A Case Management Conference, or CMC, is primarily an administrative appearance. At a CMC, divorce lawyers, and the judge create the schedule and deadlines you need to keep your divorce on track and on time. 

If you and your ex attend, which isn’t always required, you’ll be able to meet the judge responsible for overseeing your divorce. If there are unresolved issues, both sides will be informed of the judge’s expectations for how the case will proceed. 

Early Settlement Panel

Both you and your ex will be expected to attend the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP or ESP). Similar to the mediation sessions, the goal here is to help both parties finalize a settlement agreement without going to trial.

During an ESP, both your lawyer and your ex’s lawyer will present their cases to a panel of unaffiliated volunteer family law attorneys. In most counties in New Jersey, position statements and proofs will have been submitted beforehand to the panelists. Using their legal background and experience, in front of your assigned judge, the panel will review the issues in your case, make recommendations, and talk to you about how potential rulings could affect your case. 

Recommendations from the ESP are non-binding. Rather, they act as a sort of “second opinion” that can provide you with more legal opinions on what your best course of action may be. They can also provide suggestions on how to resolve specific issues. 

Intensive Settlement Conference

An Intensive Settlement Conference (ISC) is usually a day-long, in-person affair at the courthouse with you, your lawyer, your ex, their lawyer, and a judge (either your judge or a different family court judge). 

You might spend some of the time at an ISC with your lawyer, some with your ex, and some with the judge. Both lawyers might meet with the judge without you or your ex. At some point, everyone might be in the room together. But no matter who you’re with, everyone at an ISC is doing their best to help you avoid the cost and stress of a trial by guiding both parties toward a fair and equitable resolution.

Our New Jersey divorce attorneys aim to de-stress the divorce process

The divorce process can feel like it’s going to be a long and stressful one, and it’s understandable to feel that way. The legal steps may seem intense, especially if you’re going through emotional turmoil or stress.

Experienced and compassionate legal support can make a big difference, especially when your divorce attorney prioritizes communication, clarity, and care. To learn more about how Jacobs Berger works with our clients to de-stress the divorce process, contact us today to schedule your strategy session.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.