What To Expect When You Go to Court for Divorce In New Jersey

There is unbelievingly little information available to the general public about the divorce process in New Jersey.

Therefore, the only information you might have available as to what might happen in your divorce often comes from hearing others’ experiences or online searches.

This is like asking others or searching online to diagnose a medical condition.  You get inaccurate information that likely doesn’t apply to you while it’s common to assume the assume the worst case scenario. 

Even after you hire a lawyer, you could end up simply being dragged through a process without knowing what comes next or how much it would cost. 

First of all, what many don’t know is that they don’t need the Court to make critical decisions including asset allocation, custody, child support, alimony and more.  The  only thing you need the Court to do is to legally dissolve the marriage – which is often after the divorce agreement has been signed.

But when spouses have difficulty reaching agreements (especially when their lawyers are motivated to churn conflict and increase fees), it’s common to threaten to “go to court” without really knowing what you’d be getting into, how it might affect your ability to ultimately reach an agreement with your spouse, or what it would cost financially and emotionally.

So here’s the lowdown step-by-step:

1 .  You file a Complaint for Divorce with the Court and become the “Plaintiff.”   Your spouse is the “Defendant.”  The Court assigns the Complaint a docket number and sends it back to the Plaintiff.

2.   The Plaintiff must “serve” the filed Complaint, along with a “Summons” on the “Defendant” – either by mail with an Acknowledgment signed by Defendant, or if not, then by a process server. The Defendant has 35 days to file an “Answer” to the Complaint. 

3.   Each party must file a Case Information Statement with the Court along with prior year’s federal and state income tax returns and last three pay stubs.

4.   There will be a mandatory Case Management Conference where the judge assigned to your case will direct deadlines for exchanging financial statements to ascertain the assets, income and debts of the marriage. Depending on which New Jersey county your case is filed in, both parties and their attorneys might be required to personally appear before the judge assigned to their case. 

5.   This financial exchange ordered is called “discovery” by using Interrogatories, Notices to Produce, depositions, and appointment of experts. The judge will direct deadlines for when the each of these discovery devices must be sent out and answered.

6.   If there are children under 18 years old, the parties will be mandated to appear for custody and parenting time mediation with a Court mediator.  If they are unable to reach agreement, the Court will most likely direct that the parties undergo a “custody evaluation” with a designated forensic psychologist.  

7.   Typically once the custody and parenting time issues have been resolved, if the parties have not reached agreement on the financial issues, both parties and their attorneys are mandated to appear at the courthouse and meet with two neutral matrimonial attorneys who volunteer their time to review each party’s position and recommend a resolution of the contested financial issues.  Each party must send both panelists formal statements outlining their positions on each open issue.

8.   If there is still no agreement, the parties must attend economic mediation with an agreed-upon mediator with their lawyers. 

9.   Again, if there is still no agreement, the parties and lawyers must appear at the courthouse for Intensive Settlement Conference.  This is where the parties and their attorneys have to spend all day at the courthouse until they reach an agreement on all open issues.

10.   For any sticking points, the lawyers may conference with the judge in Chambers for suggestions on how particular issues might be settled.  Often, however, the judge has other matters to handle that day and the lawyers will need to wait until he or she is available.  No one can leave the courthouse until either the case settles or the lawyers report that progress has been made. 

11.   Often, depending on the county where the case is filed and its caseload, the parties and their lawyers will be directed by the Court for several additional Intensive Settlement Conferences.

12.   At some point, a trial would eventually be scheduled.  Because of significant backlog of cases throughout New Jersey, however, it could be many months before a trial date is set by the Court.

13.   By this time, before a trial is even scheduled, the parties in all likelihood have paid their lawyers tens of thousands of dollars and taken time off from work.  Not to mention the emotional toll on the parties – and their children – from what now can feel like an eternity with no end in sight.

My next post will describe what the trial process entails and will likely cost for an unpredictable result. 

In the meantime, to learn more about the New Jersey divorce process and what might happen in your case, please contact me for a personalized consultation.


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