Whether you are qualified to obtain a divorce depends on if you meet the statutory criteria found in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2 (Grounds for Divorce), N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2.1 (Dissolution of Civil Union)and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-6 (Divorce from Bed & Board or Legal Separation from a civil union).
The most common grounds for divorce in New Jersey are: Irreconcilable Differences, 18 Months Separation and Extreme Cruelty. The family law attorneys at The Law Office of Peter J. Laemers can help you understand your divorce and separation alternatives.
Steps in a Divorce Proceeding
The Initial Pleadings
A divorce proceeding begins when one person files a Complaint for Divorce. The Complaint sets forth the grounds for divorceand asks for relief such as Custody, Support, EquitableDistribution of assets and debts, payment of counsel fees and/or resumption of one’s prior name. The party who files the complaint is called the Plaintiff.
The other party, known as the Defendant, must then file a response to the Complaint, in the form of an Answer (disputing the allegations of the complaint) or an Appearance (not disputing the allegations of the Complaint, but asking to be heard on any relief requested by the Plaintiff). A Defendant may also file a Counterclaim seeking a divorce on his or her own grounds.
Pendente Lite Relief
Pendente Lite is a Latin term meaning “pending the litigation.” A Pendente Lite application seeks relief from the Court prior to the final hearing. The rulings in Pendente Lite Orders are generally temporary, and will be extinguished either by the terms of a Final Judgment of Divorce or by the terms of your Marital Settlement Agreement.
The typical temporary relief requested in Pendente Lite Motions include:
- Temporary custody and parenting time
- Establishing alimony and/or child support
- Maintaining health, auto, home or life insurance
- Payment of ongoing bills such as mortgage, utilities, automobile or credit card payments
- Prohibiting the sale or depletion of marital property
- Payment of attorney fees and expert fees
Discovery is a process by which each party is authorized to make requests for documents, and answers to certain authorized questions, called Interrogatories. The document production and answers to Interrogatories are made under oath and have the effect of testimony. These documents and responses can later be used at trial. Generally, the information requested is financial in nature; however, if custody is in dispute,
personal questions (such as physical and mental health, criminal history, etc.) are permitted to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interests of the children. Discovery can be a costly process but serves as an important tool in preparing for trial.
Some other discovery tools include:
- Requests for Admissions are written statements that normally require a “yes” or “no” response
- Depositions are questions presented under oath in the presence of the parties and a court reporter who transcribes the questions and answers.
Throughout the divorce process, you will be required to attend court to participate in various times. Those court appearances include:
Case Management Conference
An initial Case Management Conference is scheduled usually within two months after the Pleadings have been filed. At this conference, the attorneys and the Court set the schedule for discovery and other time frames, determine if expert witnesses are required, and determine if appraisals or pension evaluations are required. Depending upon the County where your divorce is taking place, the parties may be required to attend the initial Case Management Conference.
Custody and Parenting Time Mediation
If divorcing or unmarried parents do not have a written Parenting Plan, the Court will schedule Custody Mediation with a mediator employed by the County, so that the parents have an opportunity to resolve custody and time-sharing issues between themselves. This is a free service provided to New Jersey parents involved in the court system in most cases.