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New Jersey Divorce Laws and Timelines

9 min read
Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

by Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

In New Jersey divorces – formally known as dissolution – there’s no mandatory waiting period after filing the complaint. The court can conclude the divorce process once all required documents are submitted and all issues are agreed upon. 

How Long Will a Divorce Take in New Jersey?

No waiting period means that a divorce in New Jersey could theoretically take as little as a few weeks to be completely resolved. If your divorce is contested and there are issues that must be resolved in court, the divorce will take significantly longer.

Different reasons for divorce in New Jersey have their own waiting periods of varying length. For example, when seeking a divorce based on separation grounds rather than irreconcilable differences, there must be evidence that you and your spouse have been living apart for at least 18 months.

Divorce Process in New Jersey

The divorce process in New Jersey involves several steps to legally dissolve a marriage. Whether it’s contested or uncontested, understanding the stages from filing the initial New Jersey divorce forms to finalizing the divorce is important for anyone navigating this challenging time.

Step 1: File The Complaint and Serve Your Spouse

The initial step is to file a Complaint with the appropriate court. This document sets forth your grounds for divorce along with any preliminary requests around alimony, child custody, and child support, if applicable.

Once filed, this complaint and a summons must be officially served on your spouse, who is now the “defendant” or “respondent”. 

Step 2: Wait For Spouse to Respond

The defendant has 35 days from the receipt of this documentation to file a written response, known as an Answer, with the court. If they fail to respond within that time frame, you can request a default judgment, which means the court will proceed with the divorce without the other party’s involvement. 

If the spouse responds and there are agreements on all the issues related to dissolving the marriage, the judge can go ahead and finalize the divorce without going through additional steps. 

Finalizing The Marriage if Divorce is Uncontested

If an agreement is reached outside court, it must be presented to a judge for review. The judge’s role is to ensure the settlement agreement is fair and just for both parties. This involves confirming that the agreement complies with state laws and that neither party has been coerced or placed under duress to sign. Once the judge determines the agreement meets these criteria, they will issue a Final Judgment of Divorce, legally ending your marriage.

Step 3: Discovery Process if Divorce is Contested 

After the answer is filed, both parties engage in the discovery process. This involves collecting evidence about each other’s finances, property ownership, debts, and any other details that might affect the terms of the divorce. Information is typically exchanged through document requests and depositions.

Step 4: Negotiation

With all cards on the table after discovery is complete, you and your spouse can then engage in serious negotiations, often with assistance from your respective attorneys. 

This phase is about finding a mutually acceptable agreement that includes arrangements for asset division, custody of children if applicable, alimony, and any other aspects that need to be addressed. 

Step 5: Trial If Necessary

If attempts to negotiate an agreement are unsuccessful and issues remain contested, the case will proceed to trial. During the trial, both sides present evidence and arguments regarding disputed matters. 

Step 6: Finalizing the Divorce

Once all evidence has been presented and both sides have made their closing arguments, the judge will deliver a final decision. This decision includes orders on all relevant issues such as asset division, spousal support arrangements, custody agreements if there are children involved, child support, and any other items that were contested.

The court will then formalize the divorce by issuing a Final Judgment of Divorce, which outlines all the terms.

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Residency Requirements for New Jersey Divorce

For most divorces in New Jersey, you or your spouse must prove residency in the state for at least one year.

However, if you’re filing based on the grounds of adultery, the one-year requirement is waived. As long as you are a resident of New Jersey, you can file for divorce there in these cases even if you haven’t lived there for one year. 

Approximate Cost to File For Divorce in New Jersey 

In New Jersey, filing for divorce will cost you approximately $300 when there are no children involved. The fee increases to about $325 if there are minor children from the marriage. 

These fees do not include attorney charges if you choose to enlist a lawyer’s help throughout the divorce process. To reduce legal expenses, you can consider utilizing unbundled legal services where you hire an attorney only for specific elements of your case rather than handling everything related to your divorce. This allows greater control over how much you spend on legal assistance while still receiving professional guidance when you need it the most. 

Reasons for Divorce in New Jersey 

In New Jersey, you have the option to pursue a fault or a no-fault divorce.

No-Fault Divorce in New Jersey

The most common ground for divorce in New Jersey is irreconcilable differences, which is considered a no-fault reason. To be eligible for this kind of divorce, there are certain criteria that must be met:

  • You or your spouse has been a resident of New Jersey for at least one year before filing
  • The irreconcilable differences have persisted for at least six months
  • These irreconcilable differences are the reason the marriage should be dissolved 
  • You are certain that reconciliation is not possible

Meeting these conditions means you can file without having to prove fault, facilitating a smoother process.

Fault Divorce in New Jersey

In addition to the no-fault option of irreconcilable differences, New Jersey also permits divorces based on fault. These reasons include the following:

Separation: If you and your spouse have lived separately for at least 18 uninterrupted months with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation, this ground can be cited in your divorce filing.

Extreme Cruelty: You must provide evidence of behavior by your spouse that can be classified as physical or mental cruelty. To use this as a reason for divorce, the cruelty must pose a danger to your safety or health, making it improper or unreasonable for you to continue living with them. You’re required to wait 3 months from the last act of cruelty before filing for divorce.

New Jersey law recognizes several other fault-based grounds for divorce, including adultery, institutionalization, deviant sexual conduct on the part of the respondent, addiction, and incarceration for an extended period of time. 

Division of Property in New Jersey Divorces

In a New Jersey divorce, property division is governed by the principle of equitable distribution, meaning marital assets are divided fairly and equitable, which does not always translate into an even split. 

When determining what is equitable, the court considers a variety of factors. Examples include: 

  • The length of your marriage
  • Each spouse’s physical and emotional health
  • Contributions made by both spouses to the marriage (income as well as homemaking)
  • Standard of living established during the marriage
  • Current economic circumstances
  • Income potential and earning capacity for each party

Considerations extend beyond financial contributions; support provided towards pursuing education or career enhancement is also recognized by the courts. A spouse who has put their career on hold to support the other’s advancement or to care for the home and children will have this taken into account. 

This list is not exhaustive, and the courts will often evaluate additional details specific to your circumstances.

Alimony Considerations in New Jersey

Alimony addresses economic disparities between spouses caused by the separation. The award is not automatic, and whether or not spousal support is granted depends on each individual case.

If there’s a significant income discrepancy between you and your spouse or if one has been out of the workforce and sustaining household roles, alimony is a likely scenario. 

For marriages that lasted less than 20 years, the law typically limits the term of alimony to no longer than the length of the marriage itself. 

For marriages that lasted more than 20 years, there is a possibility for permanent alimony in New Jersey. This doesn’t necessarily mean alimony lasts forever, just that there isn’t a set deadline by which alimony must stop. 

There isn’t a strict formula used by New Jersey courts to determine alimony; instead judges weight various factors, often including:

  • The financial need and ability to pay alimony
  • Duration of the marriage
  • Standard of living established during the marriage
  • Each spouse’s age and health
  • Income and assets
  • Contributions to the marriage and family
  • Earning capacity and employability
  • Parenting responsibilities

This is not an exhaustive list, and the courts may consider additional relevant factors when determining alimony. 

Child Custody in New Jersey Divorces

If parents are able to come to an agreement regarding child custody outside of court, they may develop a negotiated custody agreement outlining arrangements for legal decision-making and physical custody – joint or sole (the two different types of child custody). The judge then has to approve the agreement to ensure that it is in the best interest of the child. 

If parents are unable to reach an amicable custody resolution, mediation is recommended as a next step before taking further legal action. If mediation doesn’t yield results, the court may order an investigation to thoroughly assess the circumstances of both parents. The case then proceeds to trial if the parents still cannot come to an agreement. 

During trial, each parent (usually through their lawyer) has an opportunity to present evidence supporting their requested custody arrangement. At the end of the trial, the judge will make a decision based on what is in the best interest of the child. 

Divorce is undoubtedly an emotional and challenging process, deeply affecting many aspects of your life. Obtaining reliable legal advice provides clarity and reassurance during these difficult times.

Remember, if you’re concerned about the costs associated with retaining legal counsel, unbundled legal services offer a flexible and cost-effective solution. These allow you to work with a lawyer for specific tasks like preparing documents or offering guidance on alimony, while managing other steps on your own.

You don’t have to go through this process alone; there are compassionate professionals who understand what you’re going through and want to help ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way.

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