Understanding the Steps of a Divorce in New Jersey
Divorce can feel like an overwhelming process. One of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety concerning a big event is to demystify the process. Below, our professional and dedicated New Jersey divorce lawyer identifies and explains the main steps in a New Jersey divorce.
File a Complaint for Divorce
The divorce case officially begins when one party files a Complaint for Divorce. The party that files the Complaint will be the plaintiff while the other spouse will be the defendant. The Complaint will include the basic information about the case–the identity of the parties, the sought-after relief, the grounds for divorce, etc.
Answer and Counterclaim
The defendant must respond to the complaint if there are any issues on which they wish to be heard. They can file a general appearance, an Answer, or a counterclaim, depending upon what they wish to accomplish in the divorce. If the defendant is properly served with the Complaint and fails to respond, the plaintiff can obtain a default judgment and any relief identified in the Complaint.
Case Information Statement
In New Jersey, the parties will then each be required to file a Case Information Statement (CIS). The CIS is a statement of each party’s assets, income, debts, expenses, and other financial items. The CIS is extremely important, serving as the basis for temporary and final support issues, distributing assets, and other financial matters.
Case Management and Discovery
The court will hold a Case Management Conference (CMC), at which hearing the court will set a discovery schedule. Discovery involves requests for and exchange of documents, information, and other relevant evidence between the parties. The court can set dates and response times for specific types of discovery requests as well as evaluations pertaining to child custody and other matters. The court may order the parties to engage in mediation concerning child custody and parenting time in an effort to reach agreement on these matters.
Settlement Negotiations and the Early Settlement Panel
Before and/or after filing the complaint for divorce, the parties will engage in settlement negotiations. Settlement talks may occur periodically throughout the matter until all issues are resolved. If the parties reach the end of discovery without coming to a full settlement, the New Jersey court will require the parties to attend an Early Settlement Panel.
A Settlement Panel consists of two or three volunteer attorneys who will act as panelists to help the parties resolve their financial disputes. The Panel will listen to each party’s contentions and issue recommendations concerning financial matters related to the divorce. Ideally, the parties will accept the Panel’s recommendations and draft a settlement agreement.
If the parties do not accept the recommendations of the Early Settlement Panel and reach an agreement, the court will order the parties to attend economic mediation. Attorneys for the parties will agree upon a mediator from a court-approved list, who will hear each party’s arguments and work with the parties to amicably resolve any outstanding economic issues (alimony, property division, etc.). The first two hours will be provided without charge, while the parties must pay for additional time with the mediator.
The court will likely require the parties to attend a final settlement conference before the trial date. The court will encourage the parties to resolve any remaining disputes and reach a comprehensive settlement.
If triable issues remain after all mediation and settlement efforts have been exhausted, the parties will proceed to trial. The parties will present evidence and witnesses to the court, as well as legal briefs outlining their respective arguments. The court will hear all arguments, testimony, and evidence, and then issue a Judgment of Divorce concerning custody, visitation, division of assets, spousal maintenance, and child support. The Judgment will incorporate any settlement agreement reached to date. The parties can agree to settle at any time before the court issues its final judgment.
Call a Seasoned New Jersey Divorce and Mediation Attorney Today
If you’re considering divorce or facing issues involving parental rights, child custody, equitable division of property, alimony/spousal support, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey, contact the experienced and effective Union family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation.