When a marriage is irretrievably broken, ideally both parties will agree at least on that fact. However, our East Brunswick divorce lawyers have come across cases where one spouse refused to participate – would not sign divorce papers or respond to discovery requests or attend hearings. Ultimately, the only thing those individuals succeeded in was not having a say in how the court ruled on their support obligations, parenting time and division of assets and debts.
It is much more common that a vengeful spouse will contest as many aspects of the split as possible. This may lead to more difficult and protracted negotiations, but in neither case do these actions stop the divorce from happening.
Under New Jersey Family Law, courts allow divorce cases to proceed even if one spouse does not want it or attempts to stymie the process by refusing to participate. If one spouse decides they want a divorce, there is nothing the other can legally do to force them to stay married. Although some criticize divorce laws for making the process too easy/quick, the reality is that it is not instantaneous and there are good reasons why it doesn’t require the consent of both parties. Imagine a domestic violence victim being held hostage in a dangerous marriage with an abuser who refused to grant the divorce?
So what happens if one spouse refuses to sign divorce papers? A default judgmentis entered.
What is a Default Judgment in New Jersey Divorce Cases?
After you formally file for divorce, your case will be given a docket number and begin making its way through the courts. The process is only ceased prior to resolution if the petitioner files a motion to withdraw papers, if the Defendant cannot be served (either personally or through other methods), or if one of the parties dies.
It should be noted that COVID-19 has resulted in a backlog of New Jersey family law cases. Backlogged marriage dissolution cases are up 112 percent in Monmouth County, 300 percent in Middlesex County and 284 percent in Somerset County, according to New Jersey Courts. But divorce cases are still moving along, with many hearings, conferences and mediations taking place over streaming video services.
If one spouse refuses to accept legal papers, declines to respond to them and/or does not show up for any court dates, divorce proceedings will still go on. The trial court judge will review all submitted evidence before issuing a final order on matters that include child custody, child support, alimony and asset division. If only one spouse has submitted evidence, that is all the judge will have to go on, and the outcome is likely to be much more favorable to the participating spouse. This is called a default judgment.
The process for default judgment in a New Jersey divorce is basically:
- Divorce papers are filed and served. A process server will attempt to serve papers to your spouse. If they are successful, your spouse has 35 days to respond.
- Serving notice of equitable distribution and case information statement. If your spouse does not respond to those papers, you then serve them with a Notice of Equitable Distribution and Case Information Statement, which explains all the issues that need to be resolved in your dissolution. You will provide him/her with information about your assets, income, liabilities and monthly expenses.
- Obtaining a divorce decree. The related documents will be submitted to the court, and you will ask for a final judgment. The court will set a date and your spouse will be given notice.
Both parties have every right to participate in marriage dissolution proceedings, and it is truly in their best interest to do so. Courts are often reticent to issue default because they want to give everyone involved a fair chance at responding and making their case. But if one party refuses to be involved even after being given every fair chance to do so, the case will proceed without them.
If you suspect your spouse will be difficult to find or reach as you prepare for divorce, it is best to work with an experienced divorce lawyer who can help you navigate the challenges and ensure your rights and interests are protected.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.