Divorce in New Jersey
Legally dissolving a marriage through a divorce impacts the person filing for divorce, their spouse, their children, and both sides of the family. Among the most common and stressful divorce-related issues are financial disputes regarding the distribution of the marital property and alimony payments. Issues relating to child custody or child support may also be especially contentious. By making well informed decisions throughout the process, individuals can easily move on to the next phase of their lives.
As a divorce becomes more complicated, both parties will need a lawyer who will protect their rights. Divorce decrees may be modified, and a lawyer should be kept on retainer to help with any changes that should be made. Lawyers also have the capacity to file for temporary restraining orders and/or spousal support.
Speaking to a Moorestown divorce lawyer helps individuals learn their rights and responsibilities when they plan to file for divorce. Each divorce is different, and divorces must be managed by a lawyer who understands the family dynamics and issues related to the case. Additionally, couples should not opt for a quick divorce that does not address marital property or other items that must be divided once the union is dissolved.
What Constitutes as Grounds for Divorce?
New Jersey courts will grant a divorce on either a fault or no-fault basis. In many cases, one spouse’s actions will cause the dissolution of the marriage. If one spouse is to blame for the marriage ending, the other spouse can file for divorce based on fault. If both spouses are prepared to end their marriage, they can file for a divorce without fault.
Keep in mind that many of the grounds for divorce allowed by the state of New Jersey have specific requirements that might not have been met yet. Documentation is key, and anyone who is planning to file for divorce should add any information that has been gathered to their divorce filing. As such, common grounds for divorce include:
Irreconcilable differences: This is a catch-all phrase used when couples are ready to divorce but do not want a contentious divorce. They can file, divide their property, arrange for child custody and support, and move on with their lives. While this is a common form of divorce that does not assign fault, many other divorces are not so simple.
Obtaining a divorce based on fault can be advantageous to individuals involved in contentious custody disputes, property distribution disagreements, or arguments over alimony. Fault can be one of the determining factors a New Jersey court will use in resolving those matters. Additionally, fault may be the sole reason the plaintiff is ready to file for divorce. While many people have a right to get divorced for nothing more than irreconcilable differences, a solid reason laid out under state law helps certain people leave a marriage when they realize what has happened to them is unlawful.
Adultery: This can be used as the sole reason to file for any divorce. If the divorce becomes contentious, the plaintiff will need to prove that adultery occurred. Suspicions are often not enough to present to the court, especially if those suspicions turn out to be unfounded. How the adultery occurred may also play an important role in the case as the adulterer might have had relations with someone else in the family home, possibly presented that person to their children, or even engaged in deviant sexual behavior with that individual.
Separation: This is the first step in getting divorced for many couples. There is, however, no process for legal separation in New Jersey. The state, instead, allows couples to file for what is known as Divorce of Bed and Board as the couple separates. This type of divorce allows the couple to live separate economic lives and live in different households, but maintain certain benefits of marriage. For example, a separated spouse in New Jersey remains on their spouse’s health insurance.
Extreme cruelty: This is considered any mental or physical violence or abuse that forces the plaintiff to file for divorce. Because this type of cruelty is subjective and not difficult to establish, a judge will more than likely grant a divorce because the marriage is dead. Extreme cruelty has a waiting period of three months, meaning that the first documented complaint of extreme cruelty should have occurred at least three months before the filing.
Addiction: Addiction to any substance can make a marriage untenable. While addiction might cause desertion or extreme cruelty, addiction might also weigh on a spouse so much that they no longer want to be married or feel they must leave to protect themselves or their children. The addiction must have lasted for at least 12 months before the divorce filing.
Mental illness or institutionalization: This creates grounds for divorce when the plaintiff feels they cannot care for their spouse or their mental illness has made them violent, distant, or simply requires constant care. The confinement must last at least 24 months, however, before a divorce filing may proceed.
Imprisonment: This often tests the bonds of a marriage. While spouses may want to divorce after any jail sentence, New Jersey does not provide for divorce under these grounds unless the sentence is at least 18 months.
Deviant sexual behavior: Judges often grant divorces when they feel the marriage cannot survive. Filing for divorce due to deviant sexual behavior often requires a lack of consent on the part of the plaintiff. If deviant sexual behavior occurs outside the marriage, the plaintiff may file for divorce due to adultery.
Speak to a divorce lawyer as soon as possible to prepare a divorce filing under any of these grounds. A spouse may be guilty of more than one item on the list above, and a lawyer will include all relevant evidence in their petition for divorce. If the defendant is absent, other steps must be taken to file for divorce.
What is Desertion?
Constructive desertion occurs when one spouse is made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in their home that they simply cannot live there anymore. This spouse moves out, but there is a clear reason why they moved out. Do not move out of the family home without documentation of why this move was necessary. An experienced lawyer will show that constructive desertion occurred on account of the other spouse’s abhorrent behavior.
Moving out without cause qualifies as desertion if contact is not established and/or support is not provided. Filing for divorce on the grounds of desertion requires an absence of 12 consecutive months with no contact. In these cases, the other spouse has been missing for a year and it is as if they are not coming back. While the spouse who has left the family home might appear from time to time, they are not providing for the family. In extreme cases, the plaintiff may not know where their spouse has gone. The state of New Jersey asks that the plaintiff conduct a diligent effort to find their spouse, including:
- Contacting former employers
- Reaching out to friends and family members
- Contacting the DMV
- Checking in with all branches of the military
- Asking the post office for any change of address notifications
- Contacting the Division of Elections
- Searching the internet, social media pages, and even white page sites
- Conducting a skip trace search
A skip trace is a full investigation completed by someone who does this work every day. This person, however, does not drive to other cities, take pictures, or complete a police-style investigation of the missing spouse. In most cases, the court will not require the plaintiff to hire a private investigator. Publishing a notice of divorce proceedings in the local newspaper, then, is often enough notice for the court.
When the absent spouse does not respond to this notice, the divorce may proceed. Speak to a divorce lawyer who can expedite this process and ensure that the court’s wishes are fulfilled. A lawyer can post the notice in the newspaper, work with their legal team to find an absent spouse, and file for divorce when appropriate.
What are the Legal Requirements for Divorce in New Jersey?
New Jersey law requires individuals seeking a termination of marriage to fulfill several legal requirements. Plaintiffs must:
- Be a resident of New Jersey for at least one year before filing for divorce
- File a signed Complaint of Divorce/Dissolution
Unfortunately, New Jersey uses multiple divorce forms, and plaintiffs should consult with a divorce lawyer before filing. Lawyers understand which forms to use, and help their clients complete these forms properly.
After the divorce has been filed, the defendant must be made aware of the divorce proceeding. Process of service is often completed by a county Sheriff’s deputy, certified mail, restricted delivery, or the plaintiff depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, an uncomplicated divorce often results in the plaintiff providing documents to the defendant. If the defendant, however, is violent or unpredictable, a process server or Sheriff’s deputy should deliver those documents.
Plaintiffs must also complete case information documents regarding complementary dispute resolution, an information sheet, etc. Clients are also required to divide marital property, create child custody agreements, and calculate child support before a divorce is filed and a decree is generated.
How is Child Custody Determined?
Child custody agreements have two parts. The family must decide where the child or children will live, and the percentage of custody awarded must be listed in the final divorce decree. When parents are engaged in an amicable divorce proceeding, they may create a child custody plan without the help of the court. This plan should include where the child will live, a visitation schedule with the non-custodial parent, and any agreements concerning holidays, birthdays, or special events.
The child will live with one parent in most cases. This parent is known as the custodial parent. The custodial parent is the one who receives child support and handles school, activity, and medical decisions for the child. The parents might decide to split time with their child. If the parents share custody, child support may be awarded to the spouse with lower earnings to help them with their parenting duties.
If the parents cannot come to an agreement concerning custody, they will go to court and allow the judge to make a determination. While lawyers for both parties will argue on behalf of their clients, there is no way to know which party will receive custody or what the conditions or visitation schedule will be. Judges use several factors to determine child custody, including:
- The situation in each home
- The relationship the child has with each parent
- The health status of each parent
- The distance between both homes, especially in cases where one parent lives far away
- If the parents have cooperated
- If the child has special needs
- The child’s preference depending on their age
As the judge considers these factors, there is no guarantee that they will choose one parent over the other. A divorce lawyer will argue on behalf of their client when child custody has not been awarded to either parent or changes in child custody plans need to be changed.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Child support in New Jersey is not simple to calculate. There are child support calculators that give parents a rough idea of how much they will pay, but a lawyer should come to a final conclusion that will be added to the divorce decree. Child support depends on the income level of both spouses, the relative needs of the child, and how many children the parents share.
While child support includes basic needs for the children, it is not the only money that may be exchanged between divorced spouses. The spouses might agree to other payments in their parenting plan, including:
- Payment for extracurricular activities
- Payment for medical services
- Payment for a vehicle or car insurance
- Payment for school courses or training
- Payment for the child’s travel
Child support might also change if the child has special needs and the cost of their care rises. Catastrophic illnesses or injuries may require further care, and an adjustment to the child support order may be required. If a child support order becomes financially untenable, reach out to a divorce lawyer and request a modification of the child support order. Child support only lasts until the child reaches a certain age. In most cases, support will end when the child reaches the age of majority, which is 18. Certain stipulations may be made for college courses or job training.
How can Divorcing Spouses Divide Property?
Ex-spouses are encouraged to divide marital property according to fairness and their wishes before the case is placed in the hands of a judge. A judge must follow the rules of equitable distribution, which may not be fair for the family. For example, a couple that goes to divorce court during a contentious divorce and has not divided marital property appropriately will likely be shocked when the judge orders that an asset or item is divided against the couple’s wishes. The wife may have promised the husband his grandfather’s pocket watch, but the judge does not know that.
Creating this document before the divorce is filed saves both sides time, energy, and money. A divorce lawyer can draw up a formal document that is added to the divorce filing, and property will be divided as requested. Otherwise, a judge will divide property as they see fit.
How is Alimony Calculated?
Alimony comes in several forms in New Jersey, and it is calculated using facts from the case. Alimony is not guaranteed in every case, but it can be added to a petition for divorce and argued in a hearing with a judge. Divorcing spouses should not expect that alimony will be either approved or denied. Certain types of alimony are allowed, but some people do not qualify depending on their circumstances. Alimony in New Jersey is classified in the following categories:
Pendente Lite Alimony: Pendente lite alimony is a form of temporary spousal support paid while the divorce is pending. This form of alimony can be converted to another type of alimony once the divorce is finalized.
Limited-Duration Alimony: Limited-duration alimony is a special type of temporary spousal support that is provided to the spouse with lower earning potential as they attempt to become independent. The court, however, will place restrictions on this support. As the spouse receiving support becomes financially independent, the support will be terminated or reduced.
Rehabilitative Alimony: Rehabilitative alimony is awarded when the dependent spouse goes back to school, receives certification, or undergoes job training. The court does not blindly award this type of alimony. In most cases, the court wants to know how long rehabilitation will last, how much it costs, and other expenses that may be incurred.
Reimbursement Alimony: Reimbursement alimony is used to pay back a spouse who supported their ex-spouse throughout the marriage. For example, the lower-earning spouse might have worked while their ex-spouse went to college, but that spouse never benefited from their ex-spouse’s advanced degree. Reimbursement involves the length of the marriage, hardships faced by the plaintiff, and the financial ability of the defendant to pay this type of alimony.
Permanent Alimony: Permanent alimony is likely not permanent. This type of alimony may carry on for some time after the divorce, and it is intended to provide the lower-earning spouse with the financial security they felt during their marriage.
When the recipient is not financially independent, they will receive alimony. If the recipient becomes financially independent or remarries, alimony payments will likely stop. Rehabilitative and reimbursement alimony, however, are not stopped when the payee remarries. In some cases, the payer may request a review of their alimony obligations, given the financial status of the payee. For example, the payee may have remarried, yet they did not notify the court. If the payer suspects malfeasance, they may request a modification of the alimony order. Alimony is calculated using a wide range of information, including:
- The needs of the dependent spouse
- The duration of the marriage
- The age of each spouse
- Each spouse’s relative physical health
- Each spouse’s relative mental health
- Gaps in the recipient’s resume
- Parental duties of both parties
- Expenses required for the payee to become viable in the job market
- Financial contributions to the marriage
- Distribution of property in the divorce
- Investments held by either party
- Abuse suffered in the marriage
- Wrongdoing committed by either party
- Additional information obtained by the judge or presented by either lawyer
As these factors are considered, alimony is awarded at the discretion of the judge. Alimony is typically paid monthly. Although, a lump sum may be ordered by the court given the financial situations of both parties. If alimony has not been paid, reach out to a divorce lawyer for help recovering any missed payments. Modifications may also be requested given changing circumstances of both parties. When the payer loses their job or suffers a significant financial loss, they may request a modification. Children might grow up and reduce the parental load carried by the payee, and alimony may be adjusted.
When Should I Hire a Divorce Lawyer?
It is best to hire a lawyer the moment divorce becomes a consideration or when it is clear the other spouse has retained legal representation. It can be difficult for a spouse with low earnings or no earnings to hire a lawyer, given the tense circumstances of the divorce. Reach out and explain the situation.
Once the lawyer understands the circumstances of the divorce, they can begin a divorce filing, which will include items such as temporary spousal support. A divorce lawyer will offer advice such as checking on marital assets, recovering marital property, or even finding shelter when an abusive spouse is angered by the divorce petition.
A divorce lawyer must get to work right away if they are searching for a spouse that has gone missing, and they will take all the necessary steps to file for divorce in that person’s absence. Divorce lawyers can also file for a temporary restraining order. A final restraining order may also be issued approximately 10 days after the initial order.
Modifications may also be requested at any time through a divorce lawyer. Do not broach this topic with an ex-spouse as they cannot provide the modification themselves. Only the court can hear a modification request, and that request must be written and argued by a lawyer.
Moorestown Divorce Lawyers at Stockton Family Law Assist Clients Seeking Divorce
When seeking a divorce, reach out to the Moorestown divorce lawyers at Stockton Family Law. We hope to make the process as seamless as possible for all of our clients. Call us today at 856-412-5052 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Moorestown, New Jersey, we serve families throughout South Jersey, including Mount Laurel, Burlington County, and Camden County.