Many couples seeking divorce in New Jersey don’t know that while only a Court can legally dissolve a marriage, you don’t need the Court to make critical decisions including asset allocation, custody, child support, alimony and more.
You have more control than you think. You have the power to design your post-divorce life by reaching a divorce agreement with your spouse on all issues related to the marriage, saving both time and money. The divorce agreement is commonly referred to as a “Marital Settlement Agreement.”
Then it is only after you and your spouse have signed a Marital Settlement Agreement that you file the necessary paperwork with the Court to legally dissolve the marriage.
The costs of reaching an agreement with your spouse out of court are likely to be a fraction of what they’d likely be if a Court were to decide the issues for you.
The best way to get started is to communicate directly with your spouse to confirm a mutual commitment to reaching a divorce agreement out of court.
Most often, the decision to divorce is initiated by one spouse. Therefore, the decision to divorce should be communicated to the other spouse very carefully and strategically.
Otherwise, the “non-initiating spouse” may very well react by hiring an aggressively litigious attorney. For concrete suggestions on how best to break the news to your spouse, check out my post here.
Once you are both committed to staying out of Court, the process leading up to the signing of a Marital Settlement Agreement generally consists of the following steps (subject to the particular issues to be resolved and the approach and advice of your attorney):
- Identifying an agreed-upon “cutoff date,” which is the date used for including all marital assets, income, and debts to be divided and their respective values.
- Reaching agreement on a custody and parenting time agreement for children.
- Fact finding and data gathering by and from each spouse to obtain sources and calculation of income for support purposes, including basis and nature of employment compensation, such as bonuses, commissions, and stock.
- Exchanging bank and investment account statements to which there is no joint access (e.g., accounts are in only one spouse’s name) to obtain the accurate value of these assets to be divided.
- Obtaining the present marital value for any pensions or similar defined benefit plan.
- Identifying and calculating each spouse’s financial needs both now and after divorce, including expenses for children and college-related expenses.
- Generating settlement options guided by the applicable legal principles and each spouse’s financial needs and goals after divorce.
- Strategic negotiations by your attorney on your behalf; and
- Drafting the Marital Settlement Agreement memorializing agreements with provisions designed to avoid post-divorce conflict and litigation.
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