A Guide to Divorce in New Jersey
No matter what the individual circumstances of your situation are, there are certain laws and procedures that must be followed in all New Jersey divorce cases.
It’s important to know what those laws and procedures are to help you avoid mistakes and stress and as you work through the financial, social and emotional challenges you’ll encounter along the way.
In this guide, we’ll address your burning questions – including some you didn’t even think to ask.
So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and avoid the pitfalls), we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in New Jersey?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in New Jersey without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in New Jersey?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in New Jersey?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a proof of divorce?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between legal separation, annulment and divorce
In some states, legislation exists that allows a couple to become legally separated. New Jersey does not allow legal separation, but there are two other procedures on the books that can accomplish many of the same things. They are known as a Complaint for Separate Maintenance and a Complaint for Divorce from Bed and Board.
Complaint for Separate Maintenance/A Complaint for Divorce from Bed and Board
A Complaint for Separate Maintenance allows a spouse to file for child or spousal support from the other spouse without affecting the status of a marriage. It does not address other issues related to the marriage such as a distribution of assets.
A Complaint for Divorce from Bed and Board limits the obligations of marital cohabitation, but a marriage is not dissolved. Both parties must agree to this action. In this case, all property rights are set but a marriage is not dissolved. This gives the parties time to enter into a Marital Settlement Agreement that will deal with all issues involved in a divorce such as child custody, parenting time, support and alimony issues and equitable distribution.
In some cases, a Divorce of Bed and Board provides a much-needed time out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less combative environment that could lead to reconciliation.
Spouses may also choose a Divorce of Bed and Board for religious reasons. Some religions do not look favorably upon divorce and staying married though legally separated puts less pressure on a couple who might otherwise be in conflict with their church and religious beliefs.
A Divorce of Bed and Board may also provide financial benefits as well, such as being able to keep health insurance. However, you may no longer file federal income tax returns as married, which generally produces tax savings.
If a person is not a U.S. citizen, and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a Divorce of Bed and Board, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
Annulments mean that a marriage is considered null and void, as if it never happened. Annulments are allowed in New Jersey, but you must meet certain legal grounds that include at least one of the following:
- Bigamy (getting married to someone who is already married)
- You or your spouse were under age 18 when you married and since turning 18 you and your spouse have not had sexual relations
- Due to a mental condition or intoxication, you or your spouse was unable to comprehend that you were marrying
- Fraud or lies that induced a spouse to marry
- You entered into marriage only because of severe threats
- Incurable impotence by one spouse or the other at the time of the marriage
- The marriage was illegal because you and your spouse are too closely related
To be granted an annulment, you or your spouse must be a resident of New Jersey, complete a Complaint for Annulment and have it served on the other spouse. If your spouse agrees to the annulment, then it will be granted without a hearing. If not, a hearing will be held and both parties will have to testify in front of a judge. If approved, you will receive a Judgment of Nullity.
In New Jersey, divorce is actually known as a dissolution but both terms are commonly used. A divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued.
What are the grounds for divorce in New Jersey?
New Jersey allows several different grounds for divorce and depending on which one or more than one that you choose, it could have a significant impact on the course of your divorce.
Per New Jersey law, the grounds for divorce include:
- Irreconcilable Differences
- Extreme Cruelty
- Voluntary Addiction to Narcotic Drugs
- Habitual Drunkenness
- Institutionalization for Mental Illness
- Deviant Sexual Conduct
Couples can either file for divorce immediately using a number of the reasons listed above (adultery, extreme cruelty, etc.) or they can file under the ground of Separation. When filing using Separation, a couple must live apart in separate households for at least 18 months.
In 2007, New Jersey added irreconcilable differences as a “no fault” option for couples seeking a divorce. Without specific accusations, the hope is that the divorce process will be less contentious and more civilized. When used as the reason for divorce a state of irreconcilable differences means that there has been a breakdown of the marriage that has lasted for at least six months.
What kind of divorce is right for you?
You have several options you can pursue in New Jersey if you are contemplating a divorce. How you proceed will, in large part, depend on the dynamics of your relationship with your spouse and your goals. If you can agree to work together, chances are you will save a lot of money and move quicker through the process.
Once you have made the decision to divorce, determining what type of divorce you will pursue in New Jersey is the most important thing you will decide. This is because the nature of the divorce sets the framework for how the divorce will play out.
Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind.
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all.
Here are the types of divorce:
Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist.
Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in New Jersey?
You can pursue many kinds of divorce processes in New Jersey, But the basic elements are pretty much the same no matter what type of divorce you choose.
Gather important information.When it comes to gathering the information you need, it’s imperative to be organized and proactive. This will give you the best chance at receiving the best possible outcome for your divorce.
Not only will this ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process, but it will also save you time, anxiety, and money (which you’ll want to save for the next parts of your divorce).
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here.
Complete the initial paperwork. You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start the divorce process. If you’re using an attorney, they will make sure you are using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.
At a minimum, you will need to prepare a complaint, a summons and attached proof of service, a certification of insurance (listing all your current insurance coverages) and a certification of notification of complementary dispute resolution alternatives (acknowledging that you can attend mediation or arbitration). You will also need to file a Family Case Information Statement detailing debts, custody, support and division of asset information and a Confidential Litigant Information Sheet.
If you are seeking a waiver of the filing and services fees due to an inability to pay, then you will also need to complete a Certification/Petition/Application in Support of a Fee Waiver, financial records and an Order Waiving Filing Fees as well.
File your forms. New Jersey law requires that you file your paperwork in the county where you gave the reason for the divorce. For example, if you claim adultery or cruelty, you must file paperwork in the county where those acts took place, even if you do not live there anymore.
If you claim separation, there the divorce must be filed where the plaintiff last lived at the end of the 18-month separation period. If you lived outside of New Jersey when your marriage began to fall apart, then you can file in the county where you now live. To find the court for your county in New Jersey, go here.
When you file, you will also need to pay a filing fee that will vary from county to county and run between $100 to $350. If children are involved, you will need to pay an additional $25 Parent Education fee to the court as well. A defendant who files a response will also need to pay a fee of $100 to $200. There will be an additional fee that will need to be paid to have the paperwork served on your spouse. This will also vary and will depend on the location of your spouse.
If you can’t afford these fees, you can request a waiver, but you will need to show proof that you can’t afford to pay them. You will need to file a Certification/Petition/Application in Support of a Fee Waiver and attach financial records to this document. You will also need to submit an Order Waiving Filing Fees as well. Documentation is critical to approval of the waiver so make sure you are thorough with requested information.
Completing proof of service in New Jersey
After you receive a copy of the complaint that has been filed with the court, you must fill out a summons and proof of service form. New Jersey law requires that a defendant be served with paperwork either by having a sheriff complete the services in the county where the defendant lives or works, or that the paperwork is delivered through the mail, using certified mail, restricted delivery with return receipt requested. The defendant will need to sign for the complaint, providing proof that service has been completed.
When you receive proof of service, mail proof to the courts and keep a copy for your records. Until proof of service has been completed by any of these means, a divorce complaint cannot move forward.
After the paperwork has been served, the defendant has 35 days to either file an appearance to object to some of what the plaintiff is asking for, file an answer to either agree or disagree with statements in the complaint, or file a counterclaim to state new reasons for the divorce.
Can you file for divorce online in New Jersey?
You can file a divorce online in New Jersey either on your own or with the help of family law attorneys or specialized firms that complete paperwork on your behalf. Online filing may be preferred if spouses currently do not live in the state.
Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.
3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.
They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.
From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:
- $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
- Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
- Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
- Library of free tools and resources
- Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
- Immediate access to completed forms
- Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)
3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).
You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.
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However, once paperwork is completed, regardless of how it is completed, at least one spouse, which would be the plaintiff, must appear at a hearing in person in front of a judge. Complete online divorce is not available in New Jersey. For whatever reason, if you are not able to appear in court, you should consider postponing your divorce until you are able to do so.
Filing for divorce in New Jersey without using a lawyer
You can file for divorce in New Jersey without using a lawyer as long as you meet certain requirements, including an agreement to file an uncontested divorce. In this case, the process of filing an uncontested, no-fault divorce is fairly simple.
When spouses can agree on all terms, all that is required is for a judge to review the terms and sign an order called a Final Judgment of Divorce that officially dissolves the marriage.
Another way to go through a divorce is by using the services of a mediator, as long as both you and your spouse agree on this option. Over the course of one or more sessions, a mediator will review financial documents, forms and worksheets as part of a discovery process and then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions about the outstanding issues, attempting to peacefully resolve things such as child support and custody, alimony and a division of assets.
Once these issues are resolved, a mediator will draft a Memorandum of Understanding and you will file this document with the court as part of your divorce process.
How much will it cost?
When you file for divorce in New Jersey, you will also need to pay a filing fee that will vary from county to county and run between $100 to $350. If children are involved, you will need to pay an additional $25 Parent Education fee to the court as well. A defendant who files a response will also need to pay a fee of $100 to $200.
There will be an additional fee that will need to be paid to have the paperwork served on your spouse. This will also vary and will depend on the location of your spouse and the method that you choose for service. You can request a fee waiver, but you will need to show proof that you can’t afford to pay.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in New Jersey?
Courts have mandated in New Jersey that no divorce should take longer than 12 months from the date the Complaint for Divorce is first filed at a clerk’s office. There are some exceptions if a divorce is complex, but this is usually not the case.
In an uncontested divorce, the entire process may be completed in as little as 45 days from start to finish. This assumes that you have met the waiting period requirements based on the acceptable grounds for divorce that you state in the complaint. For example, if you are claiming separation, you must have been separated for at least 18 months prior to filing.
When citing irreconcilable differences, both parties must state that the marriage has been in a state of disrepair for at least six months and that there is no hope for a fix. The length of time after a complaint is filed is about two months, assuming there are no outstanding issues.
Should I work with a certified divorce financial analyst?
Divorcing spouses in New Jersey often retain a family law attorney to help them through the process. In simple cases, an attorney may be equipped to handle all aspects of the divorce, including the finances.
But if you have a degree of complexity to your financial situation, you might benefit from working with a divorce financial planning expert.
The best professional to help in these situations is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
A CDFA has specialized training in the financial and tax implications of divorce and can work with you to help you understand the pros and cons of your options.
Bifurcation of marital status in New Jersey
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce. The marriage is terminated at that point.
Bifurcation means that the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or that have become major sticking points will be finalized at a later date.
In New Jersey, bifurcation is not allowed in the vast majority of divorces, unless the Presiding Judge approves of bifurcation which is granted only in “extraordinary circumstances and for good cause shown.”
Couples who are granted this option in New Jersey need to understand they could incur more legal bills going this route and that because some of the incentives to resolve differences are removed by bifurcation, a final settlement could take much longer.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in New Jersey?
There is no law on the books in New Jersey that says one spouse can stop the other if they want to get a divorce. A spouse may attempt to drag out a legal process by refusing service of paperwork or being less than forthcoming with the production of requested documents and information. If this happens, it is possible to go to court and seek a motion that will compel them to cooperate.
Additionally, if a spouse refuses to sign a final divorce judgment, then the other spouse can seek a default judgment and after a short hearing, the judge may grant the divorce anyway.
What is a divorce decree?
In New Jersey, a divorce is officially known as a dissolution case. They are heard in the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county where the divorce was filed. After a case is completed and a judgment of divorce has been issued the divorce will be considered closed. As part of this process, a divorce decree will be issued that provides legal proof that the divorce is final. It is signed by a judge and dated by the county clerk.
It is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is a divorce certificate?
After a divorce has been completed in New Jersey and a judgment has been issued, records are stored and archived by the Superior Court Clerk’s Office at a warehouse in Trenton. The amount of time after a case is closed and that the records are transferred for archiving varies from county to county.
Many times, it is not necessary to obtain a copy of the actual Judgment of Divorce. In those cases, the Superior Court Clerk’s Office can prepare a Certificate of Divorce. There is a nominal fee for this service. The certificate contains much less information than the judgment and will include the county of venue, docket number, names of the parties and the date of the Final Judgment.
Certificates are sometimes used to prove a divorce has taken place so that a person can change their name, or they can provide proof so that they can get married again.
For more details on divorce certificates, contact the Superior Court Clerk’s Office Customer Service Unit at 609-421-6100. If your divorce records are not on file in Trenton, contact the Family Division of the county court where your divorce took place for information on how to obtain a divorce certificate.
Changing Your Name
As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You can choose to receive a separate court order to make your name change official, or you can have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are acceptable for all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
Your name change will not take effect yet just because you have a court order. You’ll need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.
We understand that it takes a lot of time to contact each company and figure out what to send where. That’s why we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to mitigate the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
We’re aware that a lot of divorce resources make big promises. We’ve tested a whole bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more