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Does it Matter Who Files First for Divorce in New Jersey?


Most people know their marriage is broken long before their day in Court. While both spouses may have thought about ending their marriage, in the end, only one person initiates the process by formally filing for divorce. 

No, it doesn't matter who files for divorce first in New Jersey. The terms "plaintiff" and "defendant" only signify who filed the case and who responded. New Jersey Family Courts don't provide an advantage to the spouse who filed first.

However, the plaintiff (who filed first) can present their version of the case first, and the defense can only respond to facts presented by the plaintiff.

However, as longtime East Brunswick divorce attorneys, it has been our experience that being the first to file may, in some instances, give you an edge.

Although you do not want to rush to end a marriage when there's a chance of repairing it, there can be some financial and legal upsides to filing first may include:

  • Your divorce team is already lined up. This is particularly important in complex divorce cases involving high stakes or major issues of contention. When you are the first to file, you've already spoken to an attorney about the major issues – and how best to approach them. You also may have been directed to a qualified financial analyst, therapist, and vocational expert. These are all professionals who are going to help you hit the ground running to get back on your feet.
  • All your documents are in order. Having copies of all relevant legal and financial documents recordsecure possession is a critical first step in the divorce process. When you are the first to file, your attorney ensures you already have these. This will include the obvious things like bank statements, brokerage statements, and tax returns, but also wills, trusts, retirement accounts, real estate records, vehicle registrations, insurance policies, etc. Finding and securing valid copies of these records can take a lot of time, especially if your spouse is the one who typically controls the records and finances. If you are the one to file first, you should have all these documents safe and ready to go before your spouse is served with divorce papers.
  • You have a financial plan in place. As soon as you think divorce could be on the horizon, you should begin saving money in anticipation of possible expenses. You will need money to hire your team. You will need money to invest in your future. You may want to open a credit card just in your name (it might be harder to do later). Being the first one to file means you are beyond the planning stages.
  • Less likelihood that your spouse can hide assets. When you are the first to file, you can ask the court to prevent asset dissipation by imposing a temporary restraining order if there is a risk of asset dissipation. This freezes your assets and makes it tougher to hide anything.
  • Choice of jurisdiction. For the most part, divorces are decided where they are filed. Of course, the person filing does not have unlimited options (you probably can't file in California if you and your spouse have lived and worked in New Jersey for the last ten years). But if you live in different counties or spend equal time in different states, you may have several legitimate options. Some state laws are more forgiving than others regarding custody, alimony, child support, asset distribution, etc. Certain judges or jurisdictions may have a reputation for being more restrictive on certain issues. Jurisdiction can have a big impact on how your case is decided. Your attorney can advise you on this.

Although these are things to consider, what is more important than who files first is that you have a skilled New Jersey divorce lawyer working on your behalf, advocating for your rights and best interests throughout the process.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.