Each state has unique divorce laws, and these laws could affect your eligibility for divorce. One common myth is that two people can only file for divorce in the state where they were married. This isn’t true, but there are some limitations on eligibility to consider.
Except in cases of adultery, New Jersey law requires you to have lived in the state for one year before filing a complaint for divorce. If you’ve been a resident of New Jersey for one year, you can file for divorce, even if your spouse lives in another state. If the filing party can prove adultery, the one-year requirement is waived, but this is rare. This is an issue of jurisdiction, but some also think the one-year rule provides a cooling-off period. No matter the circumstances, divorce proceedings can be costly and stressful, and heated emotions only add to this. It’s best if both parties begin the proceedings calmly.
Choosing a Divorce Lawyer in Morris County
Because many lawyers will charge fees for consultations, you can’t afford to waste money – and time – by going into a consultation “blind.” You owe it to yourself to research before you choose a divorce lawyer in Morris County. The easiest way to assess an attorney’s experience and suitability is through online research. You’ll probably want an attorney who’s been practicing for many years, but experience doesn’t equal expertise. Look for blog posts and videos – an attorney’s way of familiarizing a client with the legal process before it begins. You should also like – or at least trust and respect – your attorney. Ask yourself: Is this someone I can work with? Does this attorney have integrity? Will this person put my interests first?
You don’t always want to hire the most experienced divorce lawyer in Morris County: the most experienced attorney is probably also the most expensive divorce lawyer in Morris County. If you know that your case is relatively simple – you’ve been married a short time, have no children and few assets, or you’ve signed an airtight prenuptial agreement – you might be better off with a less expensive divorce lawyer in Morris County. You might go with a younger attorney at a well-established firm: they can always seek help from their more experienced colleagues if complications arise. If, however, you’re ending a long-term marriage, or have children or significant assets, it’s probably worth hiring the most experienced divorce lawyer in Morris County you can find.
- Choosing a divorce lawyer in Morris County who you trust and are comfortable working with is the first step of the divorce process.
Types of Divorce
Not all divorces are the same. The type of divorce you seek will determine the length and cost of your case.
- No Fault: A “no fault” divorce is the least acrimonious, quickest, and often most desirable option. In a no-fault divorce, neither party alleges any wrongdoing. Both parties cite irreconcilable differences, agreeing that they can no longer sustain the bonds of marriage, and come to court having already agreed upon the terms of their divorce, including a division of debts and assets, and arrangements for child custody and child support.
- Uncontested Divorce: Like a “no fault divorce,” parties in an uncontested divorce come to court without any intention to battle over the terms of their divorce. However, one party may still have accused the other of wrongdoing in an uncontested divorce. If you have a signed and executed agreement, you can obtain a divorce in one day in many counties of New Jersey.
- Contested Divorce: In a contested divorce, parties disagree about the terms of divorce, including division of debts and assets, and child custody and support. This usually becomes clear during the settlement phase. If spouses cannot come to an agreement during the settlement phase, they will proceed through a trial – lengthened by arguments and witnesses – and potentially an appeal.
- Collaborative Divorce: This is a process allowing spouses to avoid the uncertainty, formality, and oppositional nature of the courts. In a collaborative divorce, both parties agree to come together and negotiate the terms of their divorce, willingly, and in good faith. This is a good option if you’re still amicable with your spouse, but it isn’t advisable if either party is reluctant, or if there is little hope of resolving disputes without a judge.
- There are four types of divorce in New Jersey: no-fault, uncontested, contested and collaborative.
The main steps in the divorce process are as follows:
- Consultation: After researching the divorce lawyers in your area, seek a consultation. In this meeting, you and an attorney will discuss the particulars of your case and begin to draft an action plan. You should only move forward if you trust and respect your attorney.
- Filing a Complaint: If at least one spouse has been a resident of New Jersey for one year, you can file a “Complaint for Divorce/Dissolution.” There are four types of complaints you can file in New Jersey: a “no fault” complaint because of either irreconcilable differences or at least 18 months of separation, or a “fault” complaint alleging desertion or extreme cruelty. In New Jersey, you must file in the county where the reason, or grounds, for the divorce occurred, even if you don’t currently reside in that county.
- Answering a Complaint: If your spouse has filed a complaint for divorce, this probably hasn’t come as a surprise. In either case, read over the complaint carefully and do not respond until you have reviewed all of the other party’s allegations and terms.
- Discovery: During the discovery stage of the divorce process, both parties gather data and information, especially regarding assets and finances.
- Early Settlement Panel Hearing: During this stage, both parties and their attorneys meet to negotiate the terms of the divorce and the distribution of debts and assets.
- Trial: A judge makes the final decision about the terms of the divorce. In a contested divorce, both sides may present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and make closing arguments.
Leave it to your attorney to serve divorce papers to your spouse. The easiest way to serve divorce papers is over email. You only need your spouse to read a summons and complaint, and to sign a document; with this signature, you can file the papers with the court.
If you can’t find your spouse, an experienced Divorce Lawyer in Morris County can help. You can file via publication – putting a complaint in a newspaper – or you can send a complaint to a last known address. Your spouse can’t simply refuse to acknowledge your complaint. If your spouse tries to ignore your complaint, you will proceed to a “default judgment” – he or she has waived the right to participate in the trial.
That said, the judge might not agree to all of your terms, even if the defendant isn’t present. Your spouse can also come in at the last minute. He or she wouldn’t be able to present evidence at that point, but could still ask questions and make arguments.
Whether it comes as a surprise or not, if you’ve been served divorce papers, your first step should be to take a deep breath and acknowledge your situation. Then, start gathering data – bank statements and tax returns – and look for an experienced Divorce Lawyer in Morris County. Your goal should be to get in and out of this difficult process as quickly as possible, with a plan that protects your interests, and minimizes the time and money lost to the divorce proceedings.
- The main steps in the divorce process are: consultation, filing/responding, discovery, early settlement panel hearing and trial.
Division of Assets
The court considers many factors when coming to a decision about how a couple will divide debts and assets in a divorce. These include the length of time a marriage lasted and the standard of living, the potential of each party to reenter the job market, the current value of marital property and the effect of taxes on that property, and whether or not any party deferred career goals during the course of the marriage. Before you start divorce proceedings, you should know what assets will be subject to division, and how they might be divided. An experienced Divorce Lawyer in Morris County can help you to seek – and protect – the property to which you’re entitled.
Marital property is anything acquired by either party during the term of the marriage – from the date of the marriage to the date the plaintiff filed for divorce. Anything acquired after the plaintiff filed the complaint does not count as marital property. New Jersey law requires “equitable distribution” of marital property – including assets as well as debts.
“Equitable distribution” considers 16 separate factors to determine the division of debts and assets. These factors include the cost and “backstory” of items. For example, if a relative gave one partner an heirloom item or anything of individual sentimental value, that wouldn’t be considered divisible “marital property.” Interspousal gifts – something one spouse bought for another – would be considered marital property.
Division is relatively straightforward: if a watch costs $10 and one spouse keeps the watch, he or she owes the other partner $5. Items associated with one partner’s hobbies will usually go with that partner – but they may have to pay “value” to the other spouse. The court will consider the 16 factors to decide who gets which contested items. Judges may sell hotly contested items, and divide the profits between plaintiff and defendant.
It’s important to think about what you value – and what you might fight for – before you get to the trial, or even the settlement stage of a divorce. Start by making a comprehensive inventory with two columns, one for each spouse. Try to be reasonable about what items will go in each column.
- All marital property is divided amongst either party by the principle of equitable distribution.
New Jersey recognizes four types of alimony. It’s important to know what’s available – and what your spouse might expect from you.
- Open durational alimony: This is awarded in cases of long-term marriages – at least 20 years long. This assumes that the paying spouse will cease payments upon retirement., although payments might continue in some cases.
- Limited durational alimony: This is based on a specific, pre-determined time frame. A partner ending a 12-year marriage might expect to pay alimony for the next 12 years.
- Rehabilitative alimony: This helps one spouse return to the workplace. For example, a former professional who left the workplace during a marriage might expect rehabilitative alimony to help him or her seek certification or reinstatement of a license.
- Reimbursement alimony: One spouse is reimbursed for monies spent on the other. For example, if one spouse pays for the other to pursue a Master’s degree, and that spouse leaves, he or she might be required to reimburse the partner for those costs.
The type of alimony appropriate for any given case is relatively easy to determine. The real point of contention, of course, is generally not the type of alimony, but how much alimony a spouse will pay. An experienced Divorce lawyer in Morris County can help you determine the type and amount of alimony you might seek, or be expect to pay.
If person receiving alimony begins cohabitating with someone, the former partner paying the alimony might have grounds to end those payments. This doesn’t mean that a divorced person receiving alimony can’t pursue other adult relationships, but if those relationships move toward material interdependence – if these people share bank accounts or make joint purchases, or even if a new partner starts coming over to the alimony recipient’s house to cut the lawn – the alimony payer could ask a judge to end that payment obligation. Social media content – especially Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook posts – often play a big role in these cases.
- The nature of alimony in New Jersey is rehabilitative.
If you or a loved one is in the process of getting a divorce, please contact experienced Divorce lawyer in Morris County, Christopher Leon Garibian, to get the legal aid you need. For further guidance, download the The Definitive New Jersey Divorce Guide. Download Our Free Divorce Guide
Christopher Leon Garibian, Esq. is a partner in the matrimonial and family law department of Weiner Law Group LLP. He has over 19 years of experience handling a multitude of Divorce and Family Law Matters throughout New Jersey. He is passionate about family law and takes pride in his ability to effectuate real change in the lives of his clients. He is certified by the State Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney. If you are in need of an experienced Divorce Attorney or Family Law Attorney in NJ, contact us today for compassionate, long lasting legal solutions.