The New Jersey Divorce Process
Oct. 1, 2019
A New Jersey divorce matter begins with pleadings, proceeds through discovery, and culminates in trial. It is a complicated process, and the best way to navigate it is to contact an experienced family attorney. An attorney will assist you through the following stages of litigation:
In New Jersey, a divorce is started by the filing of a Complaint for Divorce. A complaint states the cause of action and requests relief, which can simply be the granting of the divorce or it can be issues such as custody, child support, alimony, equitable division or other issues specific to the divorce. The complaint must then be served on the defendant, typically by the county Sheriff, though service can be made in a variety of ways.
Once the complaint has been served, the defendant has thirty-five days to file an Answer to the Complaint. The answer admits or denies each allegation in the complaint and requests relief. The defendant also has the option to file a Counterclaim, which states an affirmative cause of action.
If a defendant fails to answer in 35 days, the plaintiff can request Default, in which the plaintiff asks the court to grant the divorce without further participation by the defendant.
The procedure varies by county, but in Camden County, where I typically practice, the court will schedule a case management conference where deadlines are set regarding discovery. The discovery phase of litigation can involve interrogatories (written questions), document requests, depositions (testimony under oath), subpoenas to third parties, appraisals, or other information exchanges.
The discovery phase is also where experts are disclosed and reports produced. Experts are necessary any time a matter requires scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.
In addition to discovery, Motions can be filed at any time during the litigation process requesting the court to take action. Often, motions are filed to request temporary orders while trial is pending on questions such as child custody or support.
Only about five percent of divorce cases go to trial. New Jersey courts generally do whatever they can to encourage the parties to settle their case. If they have children, parties will be sent to mediation early in the matter to attempt to work out a custody schedule. Parties will again be sent to mediation later if they cannot agree on the equitable division of property. For this reason (among others), it is often to the parties’ advantage to attempt to mediate their divorce before proceeding with litigation.
If a case proceeds to trial, both parties may testify, present evidence, and call witnesses to convince the judge to rule in their favor. Depending on the complexity of the matter, trial can last for one day or for several weeks. All evidence presented must comply with the New Jersey Rules of Evidence, and all procedures are subject to the control of the court.
If you are considering filing a divorce matter, contact me today to schedule a free consultation, and we will discuss how I can help you litigate your divorce in the most advantageous manner.