Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
Those who’ve gone through a divorce will tell you that it’s one of the most difficult and tiring periods someone can go through, filled with negative emotions and confusion. The complexity and opacity of the laws surrounding divorce in New Jersey will unfortunately only add to the difficulty of the process.
In this detailed guide to getting a divorce in New Jersey, we’ll cover all the crucial information you need to know while making the incredibly consequential decisions that are part of the process.
We’ll go over what types of divorces you have as options, whether or not it makes sense to get a lawyer, and what considerations come into play when courts decide on child support and alimony.
Types of Divorce Laws in New Jersey
The legal requirements for both marriage and divorce are set out across many sections of the New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 2A – Administration of Civil and Criminal Justice (NJSA 2A).
This mammoth law establishes many of the civil and criminal law procedures in New Jersey, with sections that govern juvenile delinquency, bail conditions, and real estate ownership. Of course, it dedicates a significant portion to family law which included divorce.
NJSA 2A outlines the steps towards getting a divorce and the guidelines regarding handling issues like child custody and property division.
You have to follow the law very carefully while getting a divorce, as mistakes and misunderstandings can lead to delays or extra expenses.
Furthermore, the specific laws about divorce in New Jersey mean that there’s no subjectivity involved in getting a divorce. NJSA 2A establishes what is legal in the context of divorce and what is illegal.
In New Jersey, divorce is officially known as “dissolution,” which makes it clear that the process is identical to the one that brings an end to civil unions and domestic partnerships.
This guide will generally use the term ‘divorce,’ as it is the conventional way of referring to the process, but don’t be confused if you see the term ‘dissolution’ elsewhere.
Although you can get a no-fault divorce in New Jersey, it’s not considered a no-fault divorce state because you can pursue a few different types of divorce.
In other words, this means that you’re able to divorce your partner even if they aren’t at fault. All you have to claim is that there are “irreconcilable differences” in the marriage that prevent you from staying together.
However, you’re also able to pursue a divorce based on the one spouse’s “fault,” which essentially places the blame on them for the breakdown of the marriage.
In New Jersey, the grounds for a fault divorce are set out in NJSA 2A:34-2 and include adultery, desertion, and cruelty (see the section on Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey for the full list and complete descriptions).
The main reason that spouses seek a fault divorce is that it can impact how courts decide on alimony, child support, and child custody.
The second thing to know about divorce law in New Jersey is that it is an ‘equitable distribution’ state. This means that courts in New Jersey don’t automatically divide marital property equally, as is the practice in the aptly named ‘equal distribution states.’
Rather, courts determine how to split property and assets most fairly, even if that means one spouse gets more than the other.
The fact that New Jersey is an equitable distribution state opens the door to many complex legal questions. The section on The Division of Assets in New Jersey will go over the considerations to decide what is fair when dividing property during a divorce.
A quick tip for people who have not had “the talk” yet with your spouse, the one where you tell them you want a divorce, the level of cooperation during your divorce all starts with how you approach this important conversation.
In general, there are two types of divorce that you can pursue in New Jersey: an uncontested divorce or a contested divorce.
An uncontested divorce occurs when the spouses who are separating can reach an agreement on all the terms necessary to finalize a divorce settlement.
Pursuing an uncontested divorce is a less contentious and less expensive option for couples seeking to end their marriage. However, it’s not always possible to pursue an uncontested divorce for several reasons.
For instance, the couple might jointly own a lot of property, and one spouse might feel they are entitled to a certain proportion of it. There might simply be too much emotional baggage to allow for an agreement.
Procedurally, an uncontested divorce begins in the same way as a contested divorce. Namely, it starts with one of the spouses filing a Divorce Complaint with the courts.
However, both spouses will usually draft these documents in an uncontested divorce since they agree on the settlement proposed in the complaint.
Essentially, this means that the spouse responding to the complaint won’t need to answer the complaint by contesting it (since they are already happy with the settlement).
For that reason, in New Jersey, the responding spouse doesn’t need to file any response with the court after they’ve been served the Divorce Complaint about the process to move forward. Instead, the spouses wait for the 35 days that a responding spouse has to answer the complaint to expire.
After that period, the spouse that filed the complaint can request a “default” from the court. They will then receive notice of the hearing date for the divorce finalization.
Before beginning the process of getting an uncontested divorce, there must be a fair and complete agreement that both parties are satisfied with. If there’s even one part of the settlement in dispute, the divorce won’t be able to go ahead.
So, make sure that you and your spouse agree on all the following questions:
- Child custody and visitation rights
- Child support
- The division of property and assets
- How tax deductions related to raising children are divided
If you and your spouse can work out a mutually agreeable settlement, you’re on your way to getting a quick and inexpensive uncontested divorce.
Pros & Cons
If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind in New Jersey, divorce can cost over $12,000 in fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Pursuing a contested divorce means that one of the two spouses disagrees on the divorce terms the other partner wants. When this occurs, there’s a long and complicated process that has likely already begun by the time official divorce proceedings do.
The first step to any divorce is the initial filing. What happens is that one spouse brings a set of forms to courts, pays the filing fees, and then must ‘serve’ the papers to their spouse.
This initial filing contains proposed terms for how to dissolve the marriage, including how to handle issues relating to property, alimony, and child support.
A contested divorce will ensue when the other spouse disagrees with the facts in the initial finding or the proposed settlement. In legal terms, this means that you reject the Divorce Complaint of the other party. In New Jersey, there are two different ways to contest a Divorce Complaint.
Firstly, one can “File an Answer,” which informs the court that you will contest what your spouse has asserted in their complaint. This means that you agree about the grounds for divorce that your spouse has claimed, but not with the terms of the divorce.
So, the responding spouse might agree with the complaint that the marriage must end because of irreconcilable differences but argue what the complaint asserts regarding property division, child support, or alimony.
Secondly, a spouse responding to a Divorce Complaint can “File an Answer and Counterclaim,” which indicates that they are not only contesting the terms of the divorce, but also the grounds for divorce that the other spouse has asserted.
This counteraction is often an issue in divorces where one party claims the other is at fault because of something like adultery. When the other party files an “Answer and Counterclaim,” they reject the claim that there was adultery in the marriage.
Now, this will naturally lead to their contesting other parts of the Divorce Complaint, such as the division of property that’s proposed in the filing.
Once these differences have been established during the filing process, either mediation or court proceedings will decide on the outstanding issues.
The first step is a period known as the “pre-trial settlement period,” during which the divorcing couple can negotiate with the help of lawyers to reach a mutually agreed-upon divorce settlement without going to court. It’s also an option to use mediation at this point.
Suppose there’s still no agreement after this period. In that case, the couple will appear before an “Early Settlement Panel,” made up of divorce attorneys who offer objective, non-binding recommendations based on their expertise.
This is meant to give the divorce parties an idea of how their case is likely to proceed in court, allowing them to try to reach some agreements with their spouse.
Finally, if there are still outstanding issues in the divorce, the case will proceed to a trial before a judge. The legal representation of both spouses will have the opportunity to present their case, and the judge will rule on their merits.
Pros & Cons
- a contested divorce
- an uncontested divorce
Residency Requirements in New Jersey
Before filing for divorce in New Jersey, you must ensure that the courts of that state have jurisdiction to decide on your case.
The residency requirements for getting a divorce in New Jersey are set out in NJSA 24:34-10. In simple terms, a court has jurisdiction to decide on a divorce case when at least one of the spouses mentioned in the complaint has lived in New Jersey for at least a year before the filing date.
If either you or your spouse is a long-term (or lifetime) resident of New Jersey, there’s not much of a question about whether New Jersey courts are an appropriate venue. But, if one or both of you recently moved to the state, it’s worth double-checking the exact amount of time that has passed.
NJSA 24:34-10 does set out one exception to the amount of time that one spouse needs to have been a resident of New Jersey for the court to have jurisdiction.
In cases where one spouse is pursuing a divorce based on adultery, it’s sufficient for either of the spouses to have lived in New Jersey for any amount of time.
What If My Spouse Lives in a Different State?
You can still get a divorce in New Jersey even if your spouse doesn’t live in the state.
This process is made much easier by the fact that you (or your spouse) don’t need to be physically present in the courtroom during divorce proceedings as long as there’s an attorney present to represent each party’s interests.
What If I Can’t Contact My Spouse?
There are a few steps to follow to complete a divorce with a spouse that you can’t contact or locate. The court will want proof that you’ve conducted a diligent inquiry to try to track them down to serve them the divorce papers (according to NJ Courts Rule 4:4).
This involves getting in touch with your spouse’s friends, past employers, and relatives to see if they know where he or she is, conducting inquiries at bodies like the DMV, post office, and voter registration office, and other basic inquiries.
If you still can’t track down your spouse, you’ll have to publish an announcement that you’re seeking a divorce in a newspaper.
Finally, without any response, the court will award you the divorce by default.
Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey
Since New Jersey allows no-fault divorces as well as fault-based divorces, there are numerous reasons that you can cite when filing for divorce in the state.
The main difference between pursuing a no-fault and a fault-based divorce is that the latter requires the spouse to prove their claim in court.
This means they need to back up the claim with enough proof to convince a judge that the other party is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage due to their behavior.
In no-fault divorces, however, neither party needs to prove anything. Instead, one spouse must simply state that there are ‘irreconcilable differences’ that they cannot resolve.
The following section covers all the grounds for divorce that exist in New Jersey Law as defined in NJSA 2A: 34-2.
Let’s begin with a no-fault divorce.
No-Fault Grounds For Divorce
There is only one ground for divorce that does not assert one spouse is at fault for the necessity of ending the marriage: irreconcilable differences.
New Jersey courts require a spouse who is seeking a divorce under this ground to assert that the irreconcilable differences have been present for at least six months. That’s to say that you can’t seek a divorce because of a problem that has come up in just the last month or two.
Furthermore, someone filing for a divorce based on irreconcilable differences should be able to show why there is “no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.”
Uncontested divorces in New Jersey almost always occur when both parties are willing to agree that there are irreconcilable differences present in their relationship. With this ground for divorce, neither spouse carries the blame.
Fault-Based Grounds For Divorce
In total, there are eight different grounds for divorce based on the faults of one spouse in the state of New Jersey. As we go through the list, it will become clear why some of these grounds can affect custody and the financial settlement if they are proven.
The grounds for divorce are as follows:
- Adultery: If one of the spouses has cheated on their partner and the wronged partner can prove it, they can pursue a divorce based on adultery.
- Abandonment: A spouse abandons their partner when they have left the shared home for 12 months or more of their own volition.
- Extreme Cruelty: New Jersey law defines this ground for divorce as “any physical or mental cruelty which endangers the safety or health” of the spouse claiming this treatment occurred in their Divorce Complaint. If such treatment makes it unreasonable to believe that the marriage could continue, this is a valid ground for divorce in New Jersey.
- Separation: If the two parties have lived in separate homes for over 18 months, they can end the marriage on the grounds of separation.
- Voluntarily Induced Addiction to Habituation to Any Narcotic Drug: If one of the spouses has become an addiction to a drug or is habitually drinking, the other spouse can file for divorce on this ground.
- Institutionalization for mental illness: When a spouse faces mental health challenges to the degree that they have been involuntarily institutionalized for over 24 months in a row, the other spouse can use this ground in a divorce complaint.
- Imprisonment of the defendant: This ground for divorce applies when one spouse is tried and convicted of a crime that carries a sentence of 18 or more consecutive months.
- Deviant sexual conduct: This ground for divorce is only vaguely specified in New Jersey law, but it applies when one spouse conducts uncommon or harmful sexual practices without the other spouse’s consent.
Using a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
Depending on the details of your unique situation, it may be advisable to hire a divorce lawyer to represent your interests. However, it’s not necessary to have a lawyer while getting a divorce in New Jersey. This section will take a look at the often difficult decision you have to make about whether or not to hire a lawyer.
The first and most important consideration is whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested.
If you are going through a contested divorce of any kind—fault or non-fault, as filer or respondee—you should seriously consider having a lawyer. This is for the simple reason that you will be entering a contentious legal proceeding with enormous and long-lasting consequences.
Having high-quality legal representation is the only way that you can be sure that your interests are being adequately represented and that you are not being taken advantage of by your partner’s legal representation.
While getting a contested divorce, you’ll have to make many complicated decisions. You will need to determine what issues to fight in court, as well as whether and how to negotiate.
When it comes to uncontested divorces, there’s a bit more uncertainty about whether or not an attorney a couple needs attorneys. In these cases, it comes down to how equipped the two spouses are to navigate the procedure on their own.
Divorce forms, financial disclosures, and other forms are complicated to fill out. While some people will be able to do them without making any mistakes, others might prefer to hire a lawyer to help with it.
Furthermore, it’s more challenging to come to an agreement and fill out all the forms when you and your spouse deal with complicated issues.
For example, the process of going through a divorce if you have kids is more complicated than one between a childless couple, even if it’s uncontested. There’s more reason to get a lawyer when custody issues need to be settled.
The same goes for divorces between couples that share large amounts of property or other assets, such as businesses, investments, or 401Ks. You might need legal representation to know for sure that settlement will be valid when there are complex issues at play.
The rest of this section will delve into the considerations that go into choosing an excellent divorce attorney.
What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney
At a minimum, you want a divorce attorney who is qualified to practice law and familiar with the issues inherent in New Jersey divorce law. However, there is certainly a wide range in how capable different lawyers are, and you want a good one, especially if you’re engaged in a contested divorce.
We all know that the legal trade is heavily regulated, and lawyers need several different qualifications to practice.
The level of qualification for a New Jersey lawyer is a law degree (also known as a JD or a Juris Doctor degree). Importantly, this degree needs to come from an institution that the American Bar Association accredits as having quality legal representation.
Next, a lawyer needs to pass the New Jersey Bar exam, which is a difficult test of their legal knowledge and competency of the legal system in New Jersey specifically.
The New Jersey Bar also administers a professional responsibility exam and releases a Certification of Character that’s necessary to practice law in the state.
Past these basic qualifications, a couple of other certifications indicate that a prospective lawyer is well certified to represent you during divorce proceedings.
You want to make sure that your lawyer has experience practicing in family law, which you can surmise in a few different ways.
Firstly, if they work at a law firm specializing in family law, they’ll undoubtedly have experience representing clients going through divorces.
Secondly, a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney has a specialization in family and matrimonial law recognized by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which is the only body that can provide the certification.
Lawyers with this certification are the gold standard of divorce attorneys in New Jersey.
Having a lawyer with excellent communication skills is important for several reasons.
Firstly, you want to be sure that you and your lawyer communicate in a way that leads to mutual understanding and the best decisions. Remember, it is your lawyer’s job to understand the law and be able to explain it to you clearly and accurately.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to make important decisions about your case in conjunction with your lawyer, with misunderstandings possibly carrying high consequences.
Secondly, your lawyer will be the one responsible for being in contact with your spouses’ legal representation as well as negotiating with them.
If they don’t have the communication skills necessary to perform these duties well, you might face worse outcomes in the eventual settlement.
Many of the decisions you will have to make throughout getting a divorce won’t necessarily have any correct answer. This is especially the case if you’re undergoing a contested divorce that will feature court hearings.
You and your legal team need to figure out which legal arguments to make and which claims your spouse is making so you can fight them.
For example, it might be challenging to decide whether to reject your spouse’s claim that there was adultery in the marriage or to accept it and fight against a proposed settlement.
A good lawyer will have the judgment to advise you on such complex issues by having the knowledge and experience to know which arguments are worth making and which will backfire.
Finally, you want a divorce lawyer motivated to do all they can to represent your interests. You don’t want a lawyer who’s going to phone it in on your case.
The best way to ensure that you’ll get the legal representation that’s enthusiastically in your corner is to look for a lawyer who wants to win.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
Finding a good divorce attorney can be a challenge because the truth is that every divorce attorney you meet has an incentive to get your business for themselves.
The best way to navigate the process of finding a lawyer is to look at what everyone tells you with a skeptical eye and do your research.
Referrals from friends and family are a great first step to identify prospective divorce attorneys. The people you know who have gone through divorces can recommend you a great lawyer or steer you away from a catastrophic one.
You can also look through the internet and legal magazines to find other lawyers who fit your needs.
Most experts recommend interviewing at least three lawyers before choosing one to represent you. This will give you a good overview of the available options and some context for gauging who has the best experience and certifications.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
When you are interviewing a divorce attorney, you should come prepared with questions that get to the heart of whether or not they are suitable to represent you.
Below is a section of questions that you can ask a divorce attorney:
- Is family law the sole area of law that you practice? If not, what proportion of your work is in family law?
- Do you often work on cases in my county?
- Do you use mediation as an aspect of your practice in divorce cases?
- What would your strategy for my case be?
- How much do you charge per hour? What’s your retainer?
- Do you offer a flat fee for uncontested divorces?
- Do you think I will have to pay alimony as part of a settlement? Alternatively: do you think I will receive alimony?
Is the Initial Consultation Free?
Most divorce lawyers in New Jersey offer a free initial consultation as a way for both parties to meet one another and see whether there is a fit between the client’s needs and the services a divorce lawyer offers.
You’re able to ask any questions you might have (such as the ones listed above) and hear a lawyer’s first impressions of your case and prospects.
However, not all lawyers will meet for an initial consultation for free. In those cases, lawyers will usually charge their hourly rate for the meeting.
Is the Initial Meeting Confidential?
Yes, even if you have not yet agreed that a lawyer will represent you during a divorce, anything you say to the lawyer will be confidential under attorney-client privilege.
Pros of Using an Attorney
- Whether or not you are pursuing a contested or uncontested divorce, the presence of a qualified divorce lawyer will ensure that there are no basic mistakes made during the process of filing your divorce. This can prevent delays to the finalization of your divorce.
- A lawyer can take the pressure off you during a difficult time, taking care of many of the tasks.
- In contested divorces, having a lawyer means that someone is looking after your best interests in an informed manner.
Cons of Using an Attorney
- The largest con to using an attorney is the high cost that’s associated with legal representation. In contested divorces, your legal bills can quickly run into thousands of dollars.
- The fact that two sets of lawyers are involved in a divorce can end up lengthening the process as each team tries to get the best settlement for their side.
Filing for Divorce in New Jersey
‘Filing’ refers to the submission of documents to the court in a way that follows a particular set of steps that makes the documents legally binding. Following the steps to the letter is essential to getting a divorce in New Jersey, and this section will go over the basics of how to file for divorce in New Jersey.
Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
The first step towards filing for divorce in New Jersey is getting the necessary forms ready for submission.
If you are pursuing an uncontested divorce, you should complete these forms with your spouse’s involvement to ensure the settlement the document proposes is acceptable to both parties.
In contested divorces, your lawyer should complete the initial divorce forms after several consultations.
You might consider the settlement proposed in your initial filings as the first articulation of your version of what’s fair. As such, it will contain your proposals for how custody, child support, and alimony should be settled.
Anyone can download the forms from the official New Jersey Courts website here, so those without a lawyer have easy access to the records as well.
Here are the forms that are part of the initial divorce filing:
- Complaint about Divorce – This form sets out the grounds under which you are pursuing a divorce. There are separate forms for a no-fault divorce (Court Form 1A) and each type of fault-based complaint (for instance, desertion is Court Form 1B).
- Confidential Litigant Information Sheet – You fill in personal information about both parties, such as name, date of birth, social security numbers, and other sensitive pieces of information.
- Certification of Self-Represented Litigant and Dispute Resolution Alternative – On this form, you attest that you have read essential information (if you are representing yourself) and that you have been informed of the existence of mediation and other “dispute resolution alternatives to conventional litigation” (if a lawyer is representing you).
- Certification Regarding Redaction of Personal Identifier – On this form, you can request that certain personally identifying pieces of information are kept confidential during any court proceedings.
- Certification Verification and Non-collusion – Here, you certify that the information on all the other forms is accurate and that there was no collusion in preparing the documents.
- Certification of Insurance Coverage – You must list all their active insurance coverage, including medical, life, automobile, and homeowner policies. This extra step ensures that neither parties’ insurance is canceled or otherwise affected during the divorce proceedings.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
After you’ve completed your divorce forms (and double, then triple-checked them for errors), the next step is to make them official by submitting them at the courthouse.
First off, make sure that you are submitting your forms to the correct county court. Then you must submit the divorce papers to the court in the county where either you or your spouse lives.
Otherwise, the court to which you (try to) submit the documents will not have jurisdiction. Also, be sure to have at least three copies of your paperwork when you go to the courthouse.
Secondly, you’ll have to pay all the necessary filing fees (you can find the details below in the section on Divorce Costs in New Jersey).
At that point, you’ll need to wait for notification that the paperwork has been filed officially. The announcement comes as a copy of your divorce complaint with a stamp that says filed.
Serving Your Spouse
Once you’ve received the notification that your Divorce Complaint has been filed, the next step is to serve those papers to your spouse. Keep in mind that this isn’t as simple as just handing an envelope to your spouse; you need to follow specific steps as you serve them the papers.
If your spouse isn’t averse to accepting that you are serving them divorce papers, you can have them sign an “Acknowledgement of Service.”
This signature means they have accepted the documents and know that they must respond to them within the allotted period. This method of service is exceedingly common in uncontested divorces.
If your spouse isn’t willing to sign an Acknowledgment of Service, you can try to serve them by mail. This involves sending them a copy of the complaint through the mail, to which they can respond in court.
However, if 60 days pass and they still have not responded to your complaint, you need to proceed to another method of service.
In New Jersey, you have two further options for serving a Divorce Complaint to your spouse:
- Service by the Sheriff: You can contact the Sheriff’s office in the county their spouse lives in to have them serve the divorce papers. This isn’t a free service, you will have to pay a fee, but it’s less expensive than the second option.
- A Process Serving Company: Private companies can do the work of serving your spouse for you. You’ll have to pay for the service, but it can be an unavoidable expense during a divorce.
After your spouse is served the Divorce Complaint and responds to it, you’ll both have to submit financial disclosure forms to the court as part of the discovery process leading up to trial.
In New Jersey, both parties must complete a Case Information Statement, which outlines one’s entire financial situation so that the court can adequately rule on issues like property division and alimony.
The Case Information Statement is one of the most complicated and vital documents in the entire divorce process. It’s one of the reasons that having legal representation during contested divorces is essential.
Online Divorce in New Jersey
Online divorce services are an increasingly popular way for those looking to complete their divorces cheaply. Online services are a method of preparing divorce documents that’s much less expensive than going through the traditional route of using an attorney.
In essence, online divorce services are similar to platforms like TurboTax that help you complete your tax forms efficiently.
Rather than reading through complicated and unclear legal language, you can answer questions in simple English about your family, financial, and relationship situation.
Then, your online divorce software will output out the completed documents ready for you to file with the courts. In fact, some online services will even take care of it for you, so you don’t have to handle court proceedings.
So, rather than going through all the difficulty and confusion of filling out your divorce forms yourself, the online platform will guide you through the process in an easy-to-understand way. Not only that, but you can also save a lot of money while bringing this chapter of your life to an end.
How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in New Jersey
Unfortunately, not everyone can get a divorce using an online provider, as there are some preconditions for getting a divorce online.
The most significant barrier to using an online divorce service is that people who are pursuing a contested divorce cannot complete their forms online. Rather, you must be seeking an uncontested divorce after agreeing to a settlement with your spouse or partner.
This rule results because contested divorces feature issues that are too complex to be run through a standard online questionnaire, while uncontested divorces are often a matter of filling in the proper forms correctly.
Do You Still Need to Go to Court?
Yes. First of all, you will still need to file the Divorce forms, which you can do by mail or by going into court yourself.
Secondly, there will still be a hearing to finalize the divorce, which you’ll have to attend if you submitted the complaint and have the option to attend if you are responding to the complaint.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in New Jersey?
The short answer to this question is that every divorce is different, each requiring a unique amount of time.
The final step of any divorce in New Jersey is a hearing wherein a judge goes over the forms and settlement agreement before signing them and making it final.
However, many factors affect how long a divorce will take in New Jersey.
First of all, the absolute lowest amount of time a divorce can take is six to eight weeks. Yes, this is a minimal timeframe and can only occur when both spouses cooperate to get an uncontested divorce.
Finalizing a divorce in less than two months requires you to complete all the steps as soon as possible: filing the complaint, responding by answering the complaint, submitting financial disclosures. One way you can shorten the process is by replying to the Divorce Complaint on the same day that it’s served rather than taking the full 30 days to respond.
There’s a much broader variation in how long it will take to finalize a divorce when it comes to contested divorces. In New Jersey, the courts try to complete contested divorces in less than a year (though some exceptions take longer).
The courts will try to schedule hearings quickly and move the process along to finalize the divorce before the 12-month point.
However, some contested divorces are completed in far less than a year. Here are the top three factors that make a difference to how long a contested divorce can take in New Jersey (more detailed explanations follow):
- Is the Divorce Contentious or Amicable? Contentious Divorces usually take more time.
- How Complex is the Divorce? Complex Divorces usually take more time.
- How Many Assets do the Couple Share? The more assets that a couple has, the longer the divorce will usually take.
Factor #1: Is the Divorce Contentious or Amicable?
Although contested divorces are generally more contentious than uncontested divorces, there’s still a wide range of how amicable two divorcing spouses can be during a contested divorce.
The spouses might have disagreements about important issues like child custody or property division without the presence of bad feelings between them.
If one or both spouses do bear ill-will towards one another, the result can well be a divorce that’s dragged out.
Factor #2: How Complex Is the Divorce?
When there are complex issues at play, it naturally takes longer to finalize the divorce.
One of the most significant factors that add to the complexity of divorce proceedings is the involvement of children.
Not only do custody arrangements need to be negotiated and agreed upon, but there’s also the matter of child support and deciding who will take on medical and educational expenses.
Another complicating factor in New Jersey divorces is when one spouse alleges the other is at fault for the divorce. Allegations of adultery or extreme cruelty take time for each side to try to prove or disprove them. You also need to consider the time it takes for the court to adjudicate the matter.
These sorts of issues not only add to the length of time it will take on a calendar for the divorce to be finalized, but they also add to the number of hours that your attorneys will be able to bill for by the end of the process.
Factor #3: How Many Assets Do the Couple Share?
For similar reasons to those discussed in Factor #2, couples that share a large number of assets will usually experience a longer wait to finalize their divorce.
The necessity of going through numerous and tangled assets, from properties to businesses to investments, takes a long time and requires professional help.
Divorce Costs in New Jersey
Like everything else with divorces, there can be a massive disparity between how much one divorce costs and how much another one does.
While some divorce costs have fixed prices, others vary drastically. The vast price differences often depend on the following factors:
- The complexity of the issues in the settlement: With more complex problems, such as child support and child custody, the expenses will likely end up costing a much higher price.
- How expensive one’s legal representation is: Some lawyers are much more expensive than others on an hourly basis, which can end up affecting how much your divorce costs in the end.
- How contentious the divorce is: If you have a highly contentious divorce, you might end up fighting over more issues. These disagreements will likely increase the time and, therefore, the cost.
- Whether or not the spouses opt for mediation: Using mediation is a less expensive option than going to court but more costly than getting an uncontested divorce.
The average cost of a divorce in New Jersey is $12,500 to $14,000. However, breaking down the different routes a divorce can go down leads to more valuable estimates of the total cost of divorce:
- With no contested issues and no court time, the average divorce costs $4,500 to $5000.
- With one contested issue and no court time, the average divorce costs $6,500 to $7000.
- With two or more contested issues and no court time, the average divorce costs $11,000 to $13,000.
- With one contested issue and court time, the average divorce costs $15,000 to $18,000.
- With two or more contested issues and court time, the average divorce costs $21,000 to $24,500.
The rest of this section will get into the individual factors that lead to these averages.
In New Jersey, it costs $300 to file for divorce if you do not have children and $325 if you do. If you are responding to your spouse’s Divorce Complaint, the fee is $175 if you don’t have children and $200 if you do. If you can not afford the filing fee, it’s possible to apply for a fee waiver.
You also need to pay the costs associated with serving your spouse the divorce papers if you are the one making the complaint.
As you will have seen from the considerable variation in how much a divorce costs based on the number of contentious issues present in a divorce, how much you’ll end up paying your attorney is heavily dependent on the nature of your divorce.
The average hourly rate of a New Jersey divorce attorney is between $295 and $340. Everything that an attorney does on your case, from picking up the phone to filling out a form, will be charged according to their hourly rate.
Some divorce attorneys will offer flat fees for specific services if they’re going to work on an uncontested divorce (since they know more or less exactly how much time it will take).
There aren’t any high costs to litigation (other than additional attorney time), specifically in New Jersey. However, you may need to pay for independent professionals as a result of your divorce proceedings.
For instance, you’ll need to pay for a forensic accountant to value some types of shared assets like investments and businesses. An independent property assessor will need to establish a value for any shared properties.
Mediation is an alternative to resolving differences in a divorce, replacing the trial route. It is less expensive than going to hearings in court but is still very expensive.
In New Jersey, the average cost of mediation is $3000. In general, the mediation process takes an average of three months to complete, with couples attending multiple sessions until they resolve all their issues.
Online Divorce Service
Using an online divorce is one of the cheapest ways to get a divorce in New Jersey, avoiding the high fees of both attorneys and mediators. If your divorce is uncontested, you can have your divorce complaint prepared online for around $300 on average.
Note that you and your spouse will still need to pay for the fees related to filing with the court and serving the papers.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Custody Considerations in New Jersey
The law that governs child custody in New Jersey, NJSA 2A: 2-4, gives courts wide latitude to determine the best parenting arrangement for children in the aftermath of a divorce. Courts have three options when considering custody.
They can order (1) sole custody for one of the parents, (2) joint custody according to an agreed-upon plan, or (3) the intentionally vague “any other custody arrangement as the court may determine to be in the best interests of the child.”
The grounds on which you seek a divorce can make a difference in the court’s appraisal of the custody arrangement that best suits the child or children’s best interests.
A no-fault divorce will not sway the court one way or the other in terms of who should get custody, nor will seeking a divorce based on adultery.
However, if you sue for divorce based on habitual drug use or extreme cruelty, the court may decide it’s in the child’s best interests to deny custody to the addicted or cruel parent.
In general, courts in New Jersey prefer to follow what the parents decide about custody. However, if the two parents cannot agree on custody, the court will order them to go to mediation to resolve the disagreement.
Should this fail, the court will order an investigation of each parents’ suitability for the child by sending impartial mental health professionals to assess the situation. They will make a recommendation to the court based on the factors listed in NJSA 2A: 2-4 (c), which include:
- The safety of the child and the protection of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent
- The preference of the child
- The needs of the child
- The stability of the home environment offered
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education
- The fitness of the parents
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child before or after the separation
- The parents’ employment responsibilities
Based on these factors and anything else the court considers relevant, the judge will set out a custody and parenting time plan that they believe to be in the child’s best interest.
Importantly, suppose the court decides that neither parent is looking after the child’s best interests or children in the way they are conducting the divorce. In that case, the court has the power to appoint an impartial guardian to speak on the children’s behalf.
Child Support Considerations in New Jersey
Both parents are expected to contribute to paying for the expenses of raising a child under New Jersey law. The thinking is that, in marriages that don’t split up, parents pool their incomes to help support their children.
Thus, the court determines who should pay child support (and how much) based on an effort to have the divorcing couples share expenses fairly. This is known as the ‘shared income model’ of determining child support.
For an estimate of the levels of children, you can check out this calculator at njchildsupport.org. Keep in mind that the calculator can only offer a rough estimate of how much you’ll pay in child support, not a definitive answer to the question.
The considerations that go into determining child support are set out in NJSA 2A: 5-6. The law makes a distinction between the “Custodial Parent” and “Non-Custodial Parent,” the former of which is the parent that has primary custody of the child and is who he or she spends most of their time with.
Then, the determination of child support amounts to figuring out how much child support the non-custodial parent should pay to the parent with whom the child primarily lives. Courts are concerned with ensuring that children can live according to a good standard of well-being.
The considerations that play into how much child support the non-custodial parent needs to pay to the custodial parent are as follows:
- Actual Net Earnings and Potential Earnings: How much money you and your spouse make is a serious consideration in determining child support. However, the amount that each spouse is capable of earning (based on education and work experience) will influence the amount of child support that they end up paying.
- Family Size: Courts will consider the number of children that one parent needs to care for. The more children that one parent has custody over, the greater the expenses and the more child support the other will pay.
- How much time the children spend with each parent: Under the parenting plan, children will usually stay with the non-custodial parent for some amount of time. The more time children spend with the non-custodial parent, the less they will have to pay for child support. If a child is with the non-custodial parent for more than 28% of the year, a “shared parenting calculation” will ensue.
- Additional Expenses: The courts will consider many expenses of raising children separately and determine which parent should pay for them. These include healthcare costs and health insurance.
Alimony Considerations in New Jersey
New Jersey courts determine alimony according to many factors and have broad discretion in deciding how much one spouse has to make to another.
In general, alimony should help a spouse maintain their standard of living after losing access to the other spouse’s income and wealth. In New Jersey, there are five distinct types of alimony that courts can award:
- Pendente lite alimony: This type of alimony is also known as temporary alimony and can be awarded before your divorce is final. This economic support helps a spouse who is financially dependent for the duration of the divorce proceedings.
- Limited-duration alimony: This type of alimony helps one spouse take the time they need to become self-sufficient. For example, limited duration might apply when one spouse hasn’t worked for a long time and requires a period to restart their career. There are specific conditions attached to this type of alimony, leading to the payments being discontinued if they are not fulfilled.
- Rehabilitative alimony: As the next level of alimony, rehabilitative alimony is still time-dependent but on a longer scale. It allows a spouse to get education or job training that will enable them to become independent. There are also conditions attached to this type of alimony.
- Reimbursement alimony: The idea behind reimbursement alimony is to allow one spouse to recover any investment they made in furthering the career or education of the spouse. For instance, if one spouse helped to pay for the other’s education, they can get alimony to help them recover that money.
- Permanent alimony: Courts award permanent alimony very rarely. They reserve it for situations where one spouse has become dependent on the other and is unable to support themselves without financial support.
Courts decide whether to award and what kind of alimony to award based on several factors listed in NJSA 2A: 34-23.
Similar to the way courts consider child custody, the law governing alimony is written in a way that grants courts a large amount of latitude in deciding what type of alimony will be awarded, the amount per month that will be awarded, and the duration of the alimony.
Indeed, the law explicitly states that the court shall “not be limited to” considering only the 13 considerations for alimony listed in the law (for good measure, the final consideration is simply “any other factors which the court may deem relevant”).
However, a court does consider the listed factors when deciding on alimony, and they are a good guide as to what the courts consider essential.
- The actual need and ability of the parties to pay
- The duration of the marriage
- The age, physical and emotional health of the parties
- The standard of living established in the marriage
- The earning capacities, educational levels, and employability of the parties
- The length of absence from the job market
- The parental responsibilities for the children
- The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training
- The history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage
- The equitable distribution of property ordered
- The income available to either party through investment(s)
- The tax consequences to both parties
- Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
The Division of Assets in New Jersey
Dividing a couple’s shared assets during a divorce is one of the most complicated parts of the process in New Jersey.
This is a result of the fact that New Jersey is an ‘equitable distribution’ state rather than a ‘50-50’ state, meaning that the standards for dividing property are a broad understanding of what is fair rather than a straight, equal split.
Couples can reach their own settlement regarding the division of property through negotiation. The courts will usually sign off on what they agree (unless it is patently unfair to one party when the court will ask questions during the final hearing).
This is the case in uncontested divorces as well as those contested divorces where the outstanding issues don’t relate to the property division but instead other matters like child custody or alimony.
If a couple cannot reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation, the case will proceed to court, where a judge will determine what constitutes a fair distribution of assets.
The NJSA 2A: 34-23(h) and NJSA 2A 34-23.1 guide the judges’ rulings when deciding what the distribution of assets will look like. The latter statute lays out a long list of considerations for the court to take into account, which includes:
- The duration of the marriage
- The income or property brought to the marriage by each partner
- The economic circumstances of each party
- The income and earning capacity of each party
- The contribution by each party to the education, training, or earning power of the other
- The present value of the property
- The extent to which a party deferred achieving their career goals
- Any other factors which the court may deem relevant
The rest of this section covers issues relevant to specific types of assets to divide during the process of getting a divorce.
There are a few different ways to proceed when it comes to dividing real estate assets during a divorce.
The most straightforward route is selling marital property and dividing the money you raise. However, many people choose not to follow this path. Another approach is for one spouse to buy out the other, paying them for their share of the house.
Finally, the spouses can agree (or the court can order) that one spouse continues to live in a shared property for a specified amount of time.
For example, this might last until all the children of the marriage have gone to college or moved out of the home. At this point, it will be sold and the proceeds divided between the former couple.
401k, IRA, Investments
Retirement benefits and other financial assets can be challenging to divide during a divorce.
In the case of retirement benefits, they present a challenge regarding inaccessible money. Although you have paid money into a 401k, the funds in the account are not yet available.
There are two ways to go about dividing such an asset in New Jersey: (1) waiting for the policy to mature and then dividing it and (2) allowing one spouse to keep the entire 401k in exchange for an asset that has equal value. Note that couples who use the first method will have to get a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO),
Other types of investments are either divided or weighed up against one another either according to the couple’s agreed-upon settlement or the court’s decision.
Under New Jersey law, businesses are usually a marital asset that you need to include in any equitable property division.
However, there are exceptions to including a business in a divorce settlement. Firstly, if you inherited a business from someone, you won’t need to split it.
Secondly, if you owned the business before the beginning of your marriage, you’ll only need to split the amount your business has grown since the start of your marriage.
If these conditions don’t hold for you, an impartial business valuation expert will need to assess the business’s value. Then, that value will need to be split according to what is most fair in the eyes of the court.
Any other assets in a marriage are split according to the same principles we’ve gone over. This includes anything else the couple owns, from furniture to cars to collectibles.
Usually, the divorcing spouses will meet to decide who will get what. Since you can’t cut a bed or a baseball card in half, this usually involves trading off one valuable item for another in an equitable manner (i.e., “You take the baseball card, and I’ll get the bed.”
Common-Law Marriage Considerations in New Jersey
New Jersey does not recognize common-law marriages, a type of long-term relationship where two people have been living together for many years as if they are married but have never gotten a marriage license. NJSA 2A 37:1-10 explicitly bans common-law marriages.
It’s sometimes possible for an unmarried person to request payments from their partner in the event of a breakup. This situation is called palimony, but the laws have been in flux regarding this issue over the past decade. It’s pretty rare and difficult to get palimony in New Jersey.
Alternatives to Divorce in New Jersey
Not every divorce proceeding that begins ends in divorce, with many couples finding alternatives to divorce. Deciding to go another route instead of divorce can lead to many different conclusions, from saving a lot of money to an eventual reconciliation.
This section provides a list of some of the most common alternatives to divorce in the state.
Although many states allow couples to get a legal separation, which involves a settlement similar to a divorce but leaves the marriage intact, New Jersey is not one of those states.
There is no mention of legal separation in New Jersey laws, and thus there’s no court procedure to get one.
However, you can draw up a separation agreement on your own or with the help of a lawyer, which will amount to a contract between the two parties that allows them to live separately and share parenting duties.
Keep in mind that this is a private contract, not something recognized by the state.
There are a constrained number of reasons that allow you to seek an annulment of your marriage rather than a divorce in New Jersey. NJSA 2A: 34-1 sets out the causes under which someone can seek to annul a marriage. They are:
- Bigamy: One spouse was already married at the time of their second marriage.
- Underage Marriages: If either spouse was under the age of 18 at the time of the wedding, annulment is an option.
- Mental Competency: This situation includes one spouse who could not comprehend they were getting married due to their mental condition or intoxication.
- Fraud: In this case, one party entered the marriage because of the fraud or lies of the other.
- Impotence: If one of the parties to the marriage is incurably impotent and the other party didn’t know about it at the time of marriage, you can annul the marriage.
- Close Familial Relations: The spouses are too closely related to be legally married.
- Threats: If either party entered the marriage due to threats, they can request an annulment.
Work It Out Together
Sometimes, the idea of getting a divorce is tossed around as part of an argument. Perhaps a spouse uses the word out of spite during a particularly stressful or challenging part of a marriage.
However, just because divorce comes up doesn’t mean it’s the only option.
With some time to cool down and talk, many couples can work out their differences through compromises and apologies.
After some time to talk, many couples may choose not to go down the road of divorce.
For issues that the couple can’t resolve on their own but don’t necessarily need to lead to a divorce, seeking professional marriage counseling is an option.
When both spouses approach counseling with a good attitude and a will to fix the marriage, most will be able to save their marriage and perhaps even emerge as a stronger couple.
Considering a divorce can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.
If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.
Another option for couples who are having difficulties is to open their marriage. This term means both spouses agree that their relationship should no longer be monogamous, and both are permitted to seek other sexual partners.
For couples that feel their emotional and sexual needs aren’t being satisfied in a marriage, an open marriage can alleviate those problems.
Also known as platonic parenting, couples who choose to pursue a parenting marriage will no longer be in a traditional relationship. Instead, they stay together platonically to raise their children.