Ending a marriage can be difficult. Navigating the emotional landmines and the legalese of divorce statutes can make getting divorced even harder. Getting divorced may feel like making your way in the dark, but understanding the basics of NJ divorce laws can help you find your way through the process.
Who Can Get a Divorce in New Jersey?
Under New Jersey Statute 2A:34-10, a spouse is eligible to file a complaint for divorce in the state only if one of the spouses has been a resident of the state for at least 12 months. There is one exception to the one-year requirement. In a “fault” divorce alleging adultery, the one-year residency requirement can be waived. The filing spouse is called the “plaintiff,” and the other spouse is called the “defendant.”
What Are the Grounds for Getting a Divorce in New Jersey?
NJ divorce laws set out the reasons a court will consider in order to end a marriage. Called the “grounds” for divorce, in New Jersey there are two main bases for getting divorced.
The first is a “no fault” divorce under New Jersey Statute 2A:34-2. In a “no fault” case, the divorce complaint is not based on misconduct by the other spouse. Instead, the complaint alleges one of two things:
- The parties have experienced “irreconcilable differences” for the past six months or longer, meaning the parties can no longer get along and they have no chance of reconciling; or
- The spouses have agreed to divorce by voluntary separation and have been living apart for 18 months.
In the second category of divorces, the spouse filing the divorce complaint is asking to end the marriage because of the conduct or “fault” of the other spouse. New Jersey Statute 2A:34-2 sets out the different types of conduct that can be the basis of a “fault” divorce:
- Extreme cruelty
- Addiction, habitual drunkenness, or drug habituation
- Imprisonment of the other spouse
- Institutionalization of the other spouse
- Deviant sexual conduct
The divorce complaint alleging the fault of the other spouse must state which of these bases the filing spouse relies on for seeking the divorce, and later he or she will be required to prove that allegation.
Where Does a Plaintiff File a Divorce?
Under NJ divorce laws, the plaintiff in a divorce case must file in the county where the reason for divorcing arose. For example, if the divorce complaint alleges extreme cruelty, the filing spouse must file the complaint in the county where the extreme cruelty occurred, even if he or she lives in a different county at the time of filing. In another example, if the ground for the divorce is irreconcilable differences, then the filing spouse files the complaint in the county where he or she lives.
When Can I File for Divorce?
In order to get a divorce in New Jersey, the plaintiff must have lived in New Jersey for the 12 months leading up to the filing of the divorce complaint. 2A:34-10. Other than that residency requirement or other time limits discussed here, a spouse may file a divorce complaint at any time.
What Do NJ Divorce Laws Say about How to File for Divorce?
A divorce action is started by the filing of a complaint for divorce. The complaint should state the reason the filing spouse is asking for a divorce as well as other issues the court needs to determine, such as child custody, support, and parenting time issues; alimony or spousal support; division of marital assets and/or debts; and whether either spouse wants to return to using a former name after the divorce is final.
In all divorce cases, the case is started by the filing of the complaint along with a certification of insurance and a certification of notification of complementary dispute resolution alternatives. Additional forms may be required as well under NJ divorce laws, depending on the issues to be determined in the divorce. For example, if the divorcing parties have children together, then the filing spouse must also file certain additional forms addressing those issues. Also, the filing spouse must pay a filing fee or file a form asking for the fee to be waived due to financial constraints.
The filing spouse must also make sure that the other spouse receives a file-stamped copy of the complaint. In legal terms this is called “service” of the complaint. Service can be accomplished by giving a copy of the complaint and related documents to the other spouse personally or by mail or by sending the documents to the other spouse’s attorney if he or she is represented.
Under NJ divorce laws, special service options are available where the other spouse is uncooperative or cannot be located. Once service has been accomplished, the filing spouse must file proof of that service with the court.
What Issues Are Decided in a Divorce?
A divorce court will determine all issues raised in the complaint. Below are some issues commonly determined in a divorce action:
- Child custody, child support, and parenting time issues
- Division of the spouses’ real property and personal property
- Division of the spouses’ debts
- Responsibility for the payment of health insurance premiums
- Awarding alimony or other spousal support, where appropriate
- Awarding damages for personal injury, where appropriate
- Approving a spouse’s request to return to a former name
When Will the Divorce Be Final?
There is no set time a divorce case must take. The length of time each case takes depends on several factors, such as the number of issues the court must determine, the parties’ cooperation, and the number of other cases pending in the court. Once all issues are agreed upon or decided by the court, the divorce is final.
NJ divorce laws are complicated. The issues above are complicated and vary greatly depending on the particular facts of a case. Consulting an experienced NJ divorce attorney can greatly improve the chance of a favorable outcome in your divorce.
If you have questions about NJ divorce laws, contact me, Elizabeth Rozin-Golinder, by filling out my Contact Form or calling (732) 810-0034. Located in East Brunswick, I have years of experience as an NJ divorce attorney, and I'll help you understand how NJ divorce laws apply to the circumstances of your case.