The New Jersey Divorce Process: A Glimpse into the System
At Goldstein, Bachman & Newman, we have a solid family law practice with a primary focus on divorce and post-divorce issues. We feel strongly that our role is to vigorously represent our clients to get them the best possible divorce settlement under New Jersey family law. We understand that divorce is probably the most traumatic experience a person can go through. Our role is to fight for your interests so you get the best possible outcome from this painful experience.
Many people nowadays prefer to do things for themselves, but in a divorce case this could be terribly counter-productive. We would like to offer this divorce roadmap to decode the legal terminology and clarify the steps involved in the divorce process.
The stops along the way may include:
- The Complaint
- The Discovery Process
- The Negotiating Process
- The Interrogatory Deposition
- The Case Information Statement
- The Mandatory Early Settlement Process
In the state of New Jersey, married people must provide grounds for divorce, known as the complaint. There are currently seven legal reasons for divorce. They are:
Live separate and apart for a period of at least 18 months with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. This is commonly referred to as a "no fault divorce." (The 18-month time period has to occur prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.)
Extreme cruelty. This could be physical and or mental cruelty. This is a subjective test which requires the complaining spouse to find it unreasonable and improper to continue co-habitation with the spouse.
Adultery. This no longer needs to be proved and can be shown by circumstantial evidence. All that needs to be shown is the inclination to commit adultery, the opportunity and the ability.
Desertion. Requires a spouse to move out of the marital home against the other spouse's wishes for a period of 12 consecutive months. (The 12 month time period has to occur prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.)
Constructive desertion. This requires a spouse to actually desert a spouse against their wishes for a period of 12 consecutive months. (The 12 month period has to occur prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.)
Habitual drunkenness or drug use. This requires a person to be habitually drunk or addicted to drugs for a period of one year. (The one year time period has to occur prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.)
Imprisonment. This requires the spouse to be in prison for a period of 18 consecutive months. (The 18 month time period has to occur prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.) A party is allowed to divorce based on these grounds even if the person was released from prison prior to the filing of the complaint as long as co-habitation has not resumed.
Institutionalization. This is defined as a person being institutionalized for a period of 22 years. (The 22 year time period has to occur prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.)
Deviant sexual behavior. This requires a spouse to have committed deviant sexual acts against the complaining spouse.
Obviously, New Jersey divorce law does not make the process easy. The most common ground for divorce in New Jersey is extreme cruelty as this is a relatively subjective measure. If the complaining spouse feels that the partner's behavior is unreasonable or improper and that they can no longer continue cohabitation, that assessment is sufficient grounds for divorce. Because this is a subjective test, it is possible to begin the divorce proceedings almost immediately without waiting for any time periods required on the other grounds. The easiest form of extreme cruelty is "spouse refuses to engage in meaningful communication which renders it unreasonable and unhealthy to remain married." In today's day and age that is sufficient to sustain the burden of proof for divorce. Inasmuch as almost all matters are settled prior to the completion of a trial, there is no need to have any other statements.
In New Jersey what is set forth in the complaint for divorce does not play a role in determining the alimony, equitable distribution, custody, child support or counsel fees. Therefore, it is unnecessary to go into great detail in the complaint of the reasons for the divorce.
In order to split up the assets and debts bound up in a marriage equitably, your divorce lawyer will first need to know what those assets and debts are. The investigation of your and your spouse's employment history, tax returns, bank accounts, real estate, antiques, inheritances, health histories, and monthly expenses is required in order to make a reasonable assessment of the situation. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, not a community property state. This means that assets acquired during the marriage are subject to equitable distribution. The only exceptions to this rule are premarital assets, inheritances received by only one party, and gifts from third parties.
It is likely that there will be some pieces of information that the lawyers involved in your divorce case will require that neither party in the divorce has. If the two parties cooperate, it can be relatively simple to get copies of bank statements, credit card bills, etc. If one of the parties is unwilling to cooperate, the lawyer for the other party will need to intervene and use the legal tools available to obtain the information.
In some cases, one of the parties involved may not be forthcoming in providing this information and your attorney will need to expend additional resources in order to uncover hidden assets. This may be accomplished through an interrogatory process where your lawyer asks your partner questions, through a deposition, which might involve other parties answering questions about your partner, or using outside experts, such as real estate and financial professionals, to obtain the information.
Every case in the state of New Jersey requires the completion of a Case Information Statement. The Case Information Statement lists all of the statistical information of the parties such as name, address, social security number, driver's license number, children's names, children's dates of birth, income information, tax information, and statistical information. It requires the attachment of three years of tax returns as well as the last three pay stubs.
Additionally, the Case Information Statement requires each party to set forth a budget as to the standard of living acquired during the marriage. This form is the most important document in the divorce. It allows each party to track the money that was spent during the marriage and also prepares each party for life after divorce. In addition, the form names the parties' assets and liabilities, not only those that are subject to equitable distribution.
The purpose of the Early Settlement Panel (ESP) is to try to work out a fair and equitable resolution of your matter without the need for a trial. Most New Jersey divorce cases are settled at some point as opposed to being tried. This is because litigation is expensive, both financially and emotionally. To ease financial and emotional strain upon litigants, the system encourages settlements.
Contact a lawyer at Goldstein, Bachman & Newman today to discuss your divorce and other family law issues. An attorney at our firm can help you discover your options for seeking a resolution to the case.