Q: I want a divorce, what do I do first?
Most of the time if we the parties are reasonably amicable, we recommend trying to resolve all issues of the marriage in a marital settlement agreement, before suing the other person for divorce. Sometimes, though, there are good reasons why we have to file a divorce complaint before a settlement is reached. Sometimes, we need access to a judge for our client to compel their spouse’s cooperation in paying bills or not dissipating assets, so we have to file right away. Other times we want to fix the end date of the marriage quickly to establish a cut-off date for support or asset distribution purposes, which under New Jersey law is the date of filing of the complaint for divorce.
Even with an uncontested case, a person seeking a divorce will need to file a complaint for divorce with the family court in the county where either you reside, or your spouse resides. New Jersey law requires that individuals seeking a divorce must live in the state for at least one (1) year prior to filing. The person initiating a divorce action is the plaintiff and your spouse is the defendant.
Q: What information do I need to provide for a complaint for divorce?
To prepare and file a complaint for divorce, you will need to provide the following information: full names and addresses of both parties (if living separately), social security numbers for each party, date and place of the marriage, the type of marriage ceremony (civil, religious or non-denominational), the full names and birth dates of any children, along with their social security numbers, the grounds for the divorce action, and if any prior legal proceedings have taken place relative to your marriage (a previous filing for divorce or a case of domestic violence).
You will also need to indicate what issues you are asking the court to decide for you besides divorcing you: custody of children, parenting time, alimony, child support, division of assets and debts, permission to resume the use of a prior name.
Finally, you will also need to provide information for all insurance coverages in place including health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.
Q: What are grounds for divorce?
Your divorce complaint must include a specific ground for divorce. In New Jersey, there are 8 fault grounds for divorce and 2 no-fault grounds. The fault grounds are:
- Extreme Cruelty
- Voluntary Addiction to Narcotic Drugs
- Habitual Drunkenness
- Institutionalization for Mental Illness
- Deviant Sexual Conduct
The two no-fault grounds are:
- Irreconcilable Differences
- 18 months’ Separation
The most commonly used grounds for divorce are irreconcilable differences because with this ground for divorce, you need not air any “dirty laundry” but only say these magic words: “we have had irreconcilable differences for a period of at least 6 months” before filing for divorce. The other no-fault ground for divorce, 18-month separation, requires you to live in separate dwellings from your spouse for at least 18 months before filing for divorce, so it is easy to see why this ground for divorce is rarely used. We rarely use fault grounds for divorce but if you wish to allege personal injuries as a result of your marriage or that your spouse has been unfaithful, then you must allege fault grounds for divorce.
Q: Is there a fee to file a complaint for divorce?
Yes. The filing fee for a complaint for divorce is $300. If you have children with your spouse, there is an additional fee of $25 for the party’s participation in the mandatory Parent Education Program.
N.J.S.A. 2A:34-12, mandates that parents must attend a Parents’ Education Program in all divorce cases in which custody, parenting time, or child support is raised as an issue in the complaint or answer/counterclaim. The workshop is designed to inform families about their children’s needs as they move through the difficult transitions of separation and divorce and to introduce parents to the mediation process as an alternative to traditional litigation for resolving parenting matters. Program speakers include a Family Mediator and two licensed clinical social workers.
The Parents’ Education Program also includes information on:
- Understanding the legal process and cost of divorce or separation, including arbitration and mediation;
- Understanding the financial responsibilities for the children;
- Understanding the interaction between parent and child, the family relationship and any other areas of adjustment and concern during the process of divorce or separation;
- Understanding how children react to divorce or separation, how to spot problems, what to tell them about divorce or separation, how to keep communication open and how to answer questions and concerns the children may have about the process;
- Understanding how parents can help their children during the divorce or separation, specific strategies, ideas, tools, and resources for assistance;
- Understanding how parents can help children after the divorce or separation and how to deal with new family structures and different sets of rules; and
- Understanding that cooperation may sometimes be inappropriate in cases of domestic violence.
Q: What happens after the complaint for divorce is filed?
A.After the complaint is filed and returned to our office by the court, we then need to personally serve a copy of the filed complaint to your spouse. First, we prepare a summons, which informs your spouse that a complaint for divorce has been filed against them and gives them information on when and how they need to respond to the complaint. New Jersey law requires that the defendant, if not represented by counsel, be personally served through a process server or a sheriff’s officer. The defendant may also agree to be served by signing an acknowledgement of service in the presence of a notary. A defendant represented by counsel, would be served through their attorney.
Q: Is there an advantage to the person who files first?
There is absolutely no advantage to the person who files for divorce first.
To speak with us about your divorce options, or to begin the divorce process, contact DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law Attorneys to schedule a consultation.