THE DIVORCE PROCESS
The dissolution of a marriage can be a very emotional, stressful, and difficult process. It consequently affects each party’s parental rights and finances. It is important to consult with an experienced family lawyer to o understand the divorce process and ensure your rights are adequately protected throughout the preceedings. Although the legal procedures and proceedings may vary from case to case depending upon the facts of each case, the information below provides a road map of the divorce process.
Filing of the Complaint for Divorce
The divorce process begins with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce. The party who files the Complaint for Divorce is the plaintiff. The Complaint for Divorce sets forth factual allegations to establish the jurisdictional requirements and grounds for divorce. To establish jurisdiction, either party must have resided in New Jersey for at least 12 months prior to the filing for divorce. Ordinarily, the filing party must pay a filing fee with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part, to file the Complaint for Divorce. Once a party has filed a Complaint for Divorce, the party must serve the Complaint for Divorce on the other party and provide the court with proof of service.
Responding to a Complaint for Divorce
Once a party has been served with a Complaint for Divorce, the responding party, also referred to as the defendant, must file a responsive pleading within thirty (35) days of being served with a Complaint for Divorce. The responsive pleadings include: an Answer to the Complaint, a Counterclaim, and an Entry of Appearance. An Answer to the Complaint for Divorce responds to the specific allegations in the plaintiff’s Complaint. A counterclaim allows the responding party to file their own cause of action for divorce in response to the Complaint. An Entry of Appearance allows a party to participate in the process without asserting their own cause of action for divorce. It is important to speak with an attorney about your specific facts and circumstances to determine the most appropriate responsive pleading.
Request to Enter Default
The filing party may request a default judgment in the event the other party fails to file a responsive pleading. The plaintiff may file a request to enter default judgment, a supporting certification, and a certification of non-military service with proof from the Department of Defense website to request a default judgment. Similar to the Complaint, a plaintiff must serve copies of the default request and notice of a default hearing upon the other party. The request to enter a default judgment may require additional steps for a divorce involving custody, child support, equitable distribution, or other forms of relief.
Notice of Equitable Distribution
Following the entry of a default, the filing party must file and serve a Notice of Equitable Distribution upon a defendant at least 20 days prior to the date for the default hearing. The party must also complete a Case Information Statement, which identifies the assets, liabilities, incomes, and expenses of the parties. The Case Information Statement must also be filed with the court at least 20 days prior to the return date for the default hearing.
Case Management Conference
Assuming a defendant files a responsive pleading to the Complaint for Divorce, the court will schedule a Case Management Conference within 30 days of the last pleading. At the Case Management Conference, the attorneys for both parties will discuss any issues related to discovery, set deadlines for the completion of discovery, and schedule a trial date. Again, each party must file a Case Information Statement, which identifies the assets, liabilities, incomes, and expenses of each party.
The discovery process allows each party to obtain documents, testimony, and other evidence relevant to the issues raised in the divorce. Each party may obtain discovery through one or more of the methods provided under the New Jersey Rules of Court. These methods include, but are not limited to: written interrogatories, requests for production of documents and things, requests for admissions, and depositions. Through these methods, parties have access to any non-privileged and relevant information reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence. Parties may also retain experts to appraise certain marital assets and serve reports of experts. In the context of divorce, discoverable materials may include bank statements, trust instruments, tax records, employment records, and any other documents necessary to ensure a fair resolution all issues in the divorce.
Parent Education Program and Parenting Mediation
The law requires divorcing parents to attend a parent education program designed to assist families through the difficult transition of separation and divorce. The courts offer this program twice a month. The parent education program is designed to assist families in understanding the needs of their children through transitions of separation and divorce. The parent education program also allows each party to develop an understanding of the mediation process, which may be used as an alternative to litigation for resolving issues related to the children. Divorces involving issues of custody related to the party’s children are frequently referred to a parenting mediation. The parenting mediation program uses an impartial third party to facilitate an agreement between the parties related to custody and visitation. It is important to understand parties with a history of domestic violence will not be referred to this program.
The court may also refer the parties to economic mediation or some other complementary dispute resolution event in an effort to resolve different economic issues related to the divorce. Mediation utilizes an impartial third party to facilitate negotiations between the parties for the purpose of helping the parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement. It is important to understand parties with a history of domestic violence are not referred to this program.
Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel
Following the completion of discovery, both parties to a divorce must attend a Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (also known an “MESP”). The MESP consists of experienced matrimonial attorneys who review the issues presented to the panel and make recommendations for settlement. Each party must provide the panelists with a MESP memorandum at least ten days before the MESP. The MESP allows the parties to hear the settlement recommendations for settlement from neutral third parties based on the issues specific to their divorce. Unless both parties agree to accept the recommendations of the matrimonial Early Settlement Panel, the matter will go to trial.
Assuming the parties cannot amicably resolve all the issues related to their divorce, all disputed issues will be presented to the court for a final determination at trial. At trial, each party presents evidence on each of the unresolved issues in a divorce so the court can decide those issues based on each party’s evidence. The evidence presented at trial may be testimony of the parties, documents, pictures, or other material items obtained during discovery. At the end of the trial, the court will enter a Final Judgment of Divorce containing its decision on all the disputed issues involved in the divorce. The process of divorce encompasses a wide variety of legal and factual issues. It is important for anyone seeking divorce to consult with an attorney to discuss and protect those rights throughout the divorce process.
How we can help
The information above is only intended to provide a general overview of the divorce process. It is important to speak with a divorce lawyer to understand your rights because each case can present a variety of unique legal and factual issues specific to the parties, their family arrangements, and their financial situations. Please feel free to contact our office in the event you wish to speak with an experienced family lawyer regarding your situation. We have office locations in Atlantic County as well as Burlington County. From these offices, we advocate on behalf of clients residing in Absecon, Brigantine, Egg Harbor City, Egg Harbor Township, Galloway, Hammonton, Linwood, Longport, Margate, Mullica, Northfield, Port Republic, Somers Point, Ventnor, Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Gibbsboro, Haddonfield, Medford, Marlton, Shamong, Tabernacle, Mt. Laurel, and many other surrounding areas.