If you have made the decision to obtain a divorce from your spouse (or if your spouse has decided to divorce you), it is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney regarding the procedures of such an action. It is also important that you consult with an attorney so that you can be properly advised of your rights and obligations during the pendency of such a divorce proceeding. This chapter will give you a broad overview of the statutory requirements for filing a divorce action, and describe some of the issues which must be resolved (either by agreement between the parties or judicial decision) prior to actually becoming divorced.
In New Jersey, a divorce action is commenced by filing a Complaint for Divorce with the County Clerk in the County in which you resided when the cause of action for divorce arose. There presently is a $250.00 filing fee for the Complaint for Divorce if the two of you do not have children ($275.00 filing fee if the two of you do have children). The aforesaid filing fees required by the Court Clerk must be paid at the time of filing. There are nine (9) different grounds for divorce upon which your Complaint can be based:
1. Irreconcilable differences which have caused a breakdown of the marriage
for at least six months prior to the filing of the Complaint, and there is no
reasonable prospect of reconciliation. This is one of two no-fault grounds
recognized in New Jersey;
2. Eighteen (18) months' separation (i.e. the husband and wife must live
separate and apart for eighteen (18) continuous months), which is one of
two no-fault grounds recognized in New Jersey;
3. Adultery (i.e. your spouse having a sexual relationship with someone else);
4. Desertion (i.e. the willful and intentional physical abandonment by your
spouse of the family or sexual desertion by your spouse for a period of
twelve (12) months or more);
5. Extreme Cruelty (i.e. physical, mental and/or emotional abuse committed
by your spouse against you which makes it unreasonable for you to remain
married to that spouse);
6. Drug Addiction and/or Habitual Drunkenness (which must exist for twelve (12)
or more months);
7. Institutionalization for mental illness (which must exist for twenty-four (24)
or more months);
8. Imprisonment of your spouse (which must exist for eighteen (18) or more
9. Deviant Sexual Conduct (i.e. sexual behavior considered abnormal or
Except for adultery, in order to file a Complaint for Divorce in New Jersey based upon one or more of these grounds, you or your spouse must have been a resident of this State for at least one year prior to the filing of the Complaint. There is no residency requirement to file a Complaint based on adultery.
Once a Complaint for Divorce has been filed and served upon your spouse, your spouse must then file a response to that Complaint within thirty-five (35) days of his/her receipt of the Complaint. The responsive pleading (which requires a filing fee of $135.00 if there are no children, $160.00 if there are children), could be an Answer (disputing the allegations), an Answer and Counterclaim (disputing the allegations and setting forth his/her own grounds for divorce), or an Appearance (which does not dispute the grounds for divorce but preserves your spouse's right to be heard on the various issues). If no responsive pleading is filed by your spouse, you may request that the Court enter "Default" against your spouse and proceed with finalizing the divorce.
Once the initial pleadings have been filed, you or your spouse may file a Motion with the Court to resolve various interim issues, such as support. The order of the Court may stay in effect until the finalization of the divorce proceeding. Also, during the pendency of the divorce proceeding, you may be asked by the Court to participate in various dispute resolution programs such as Mediation (if issues regarding child custody and/or parenting time exists) and/or an Early Settlement Panel (a panel of two independent matrimonial attorneys who review the unresolved equitable distribution or support issues and make a recommendation for settlement of those issues). The dispute resolution programs are designed to expedite the finalization of the divorce proceeding. Remember, the goals in any divorce should be to resolve the disputed issues as quickly, as fairly, and as inexpensively as possible.
Dennis W. Winegar, Esq.