Stages of Divorce In New Jersey
Filing for divorce can be a tiresome and challenging time. The Divorce process is quite lengthy, complex and time consuming. There are several steps in the divorce process that need to be completed before a divorce can be finalized. Each step has specific requirements and deadlines that need to be met.
The first step in filing for divorce is to file the Initial Pleadings in the proper venue of the Superior Court of New Jersey. For example, if you are a resident of Ocean County, the Initial Pleadings have to be filed with the Ocean County Superior Court, Family Division, or if you are a resident of Monmouth County, then the Initial Pleadings will have to be filed with the Monmouth County Superior Court, Family Division. Essentially, if you are a resident of Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington, Mercer County etc., that is the County where your pleadings must be filed.
The main document of the Initial Pleadings is the Complaint for Divorce. The Complaint for Divorce is the document in which the Court is presented with the following information: the date of marriage, whether the marriage was a religious or civil ceremony, where the marriage took place, if there are any children born of the marriage, and if there are, their names and ages, the other parties’ name and address, and the grounds for divorce “irreconcilable differences, adultery, eighteen (18) month separation, mental incompetency, desertion, extreme cruelty, drug addiction, felony conviction or imprisonment and deviant sexual conduct”. In addition to the Complaint for Divorce, there are several other documents that are required to be filed with the Complaint, and they are:
• Certification of Verification and Non-Collusion: this document certifies that all the issues and information provided in the Complaint for Divorce are true.
• Insurance Information Sheet: this document is used to show the Court any and all insurance policies for the parties involved in the divorce.
• Certification of Insurance: this document certifies that all insurance information provided in the Insurance Information Sheet is accurate.
• Certification by client as to Rule 5:4-2(h): this document shows that you were given the “Dispute Resolution Alternatives to Conventional Litigation” form and that you read it also.
• Confidential Litigant Information Sheet: this form is a document that provides all important information regarding the parties and their children.
• Case Information Statement: this packet of information is a packet of documents which lays out all the financial information of either party.
In addition to the above-mentioned documents, there is a filing fee associated with filing a Complaint for Divorce. This fee can be paid via check in the amount of three hundred and twenty five dollars ($325.00) made payable to the Treasurer State of New Jersey if there are children involved and three hundred ($300.00) dollars only if there are no children born of the marriage.
Once the Complaint for Divorce has been filed with the Superior Court and a filed copy has been served on the other party, that other party, the defendant, has thirty-five (35) days to file an Answer or Answer and Counterclaim to the Complaint or enter an appearance. An answer is simply where the other party answers the Complaint for Divorce. Whereas, a Counterclaim is used so that the Court is made aware that both parties argued that a cause of action arose in the marriage.
After the Answer and/or Counterclaim are filed, a date for a Case Management Conference is assigned by the Court. A Case Management Conference is the initial conference in which the Judge will determine what is the best way for the case to move forward. At the conclusion of the Case Management Conference, the Judge will enter a Case Management Order. A Case Management Order is a schedule of dates in which important discovery needs to be filed by. If the dates prescribed in the Case Management Order are not followed due to unforeseen circumstances, the date for the final divorce hearing will be delayed.
Following the Case Management Conference, the next step is Temporary Orders. At any time while the divorce is pending completion, a Pendente Lite Motion (latin term for pending the litigation) may be filed with the Court. A Pendente Lite Motion is where either party can make a request to the Judge to examine issues such as temporary child custody, or temporary support for the children and our spouse.
Subsequently, the next phase in the divorce process is what’s known as discovery. Discovery is where important information regarding the divorce is obtained either from the other party directly or from a third party representative. Examples of documents obtained during the discovery period are paystubs, Case Information Statement of the other party, tax records from the previous year, etc.
After discovery, comes the parent education seminar and custody mediation. Often times, children of individuals going through a divorce face a difficult time and can often be caught in the middle. The parent educational seminar was established to aid divorcing parents to remain focused on the rights of their children and to reduce the effect of conflict forced onto the children. The Parent Educational Seminar can either be very helpful or not so helpful.
If the issues of child custody cannot be resolved between the parties, custody mediation would then be a requirement. It is at custody mediation, where both parents meet with a mediator and work together to determine the best custody arrangement. The mediator can either be retained by the parties at their own expense or mediation can be performed by the Court Mediation Unit at no cost to the parties.
The next phase of the divorce process is the Early Settlement Panel hearing or ESP. An Early Settlement Panel hearing is a meeting where both parties must be present and will address any and all disputed economic issues with the divorce. During the Early Settlement Panel hearing, If both parties cannot come to an agreement on all economic issues, the Judge may order them to attend Economic Mediation. Economic Mediation is held with a mediator who will attempt to assist in settling all issues outside of Court.
If both parties cannot come to an agreement on all issues presented in their divorce, the disputed issues would be decided by a judge at trial. A divorce trial can last anywhere from one (1) day to a week or more, depending on the complexity of your case.
If you are currently going through the divorce process or thinking of filing for divorce, contact the attorney’s at The Law Office of Eric B. Hannum Esq., LLC, to discuss the specifics of your case.