For any married couple, a divorce will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for divorce in New Jersey, one of the following requirements must be met: (1) one party has been a resident of New Jersey for at least 1 year, or (2) if the cause of the divorce is adultery that occurred in New Jersey, one party must be a resident (without any time limitation). You may file in the Chancery Division of Superior Court in any New Jersey county.
The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce, where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin by preparing a Complaint for Divorce, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Judgment of Divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. New Jersey, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and several traditional fault-based grounds.
To get a no-fault divorce in New Jersey you need to state in the Complaint for Divorce that “there are irreconcilable differences which have caused the breakdown of the marriage for a period of six months and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved and that there is not a reasonable prospect of reconciliation,” or “the parties have been living separate and apart for 18 months, and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.”
The fault-based grounds for divorce are: adultery, wilful desertion for 12 months, extreme cruelty (must file within 3 months after the last act alleged), alcoholism or drug addiction, institutionalism for mental illness for 24 months after the marriage and before filing, imprisonment for 18 months (provided there is no cohabitation after release), and deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed without consent of the other party. However, in most cases, there is no reason to use any of these, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof.
New Jersey divorce law provides that all property is marital property, regardless of how or when it was acquired. In dividing property the judge must consider the following factors:
- the duration of the marriage or civil union,
- each party’s age, and physical and emotional health,
- each party’s income or property brought to the marriage or civil union,
- the standard of living established during the marriage or civil union,
- any written agreement made by the parties,
- each party’s economic circumstances when the property division becomes effective,
- each party’s income and earning capacity, including length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient training to become self-supporting,
- each party’s contribution to the education, training or earning power of the other,
- each party’s contribution to the acquisition, dissipation, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation of the marital or civil union property, and as well as a homemaker,
- the tax consequences of the proposed distribution to each party,
- the present value of the property,
- the need of a parent who has physical custody of a child to own or occupy the marital residence or civil union shared residence, and to use or own the household effects,
- the debts and liabilities of the parties,
- the need for a trust fund for medical or educational costs for a party or child,
- the extent to which a party deferred achieving their career goals, and
- any other factors the court deems relevant.
Alimony in New Jersey
Absent an agreement of the parties, the judge will decide whether to award alimony, and if so, the amount and duration of alimony, after considering the following factors:
- the actual need and ability of the parties to pay,
- the duration of the marriage or civil union,
- the age, physical and emotional health of the parties,
- the standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living,
- each party’s earning capacity, educational level, vocational skills, and employability,
- the length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance,
- the parental responsibilities for the children,
- the time and expense needed to acquire education or training for the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the availability of the training and employment, and the opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income,
- each party’s contributions to the marriage or civil union, including to the care and education of the child, and interruption of personal careers or education,
- the equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts of current income,
- the income available to a party through investment of any assets held by that party,
- the tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award,
- the nature, amount, and length of temporary support paid, if any, and
- any other factor the court deems relevant.
Child Custody in New Jersey
There is a mandatory “Parent Education Program.” Any agreement reached on custody will be accepted by the judge unless it is not in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, the judge will decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
- each party’s ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate relating to the child,
- each party’s willingness to accept custody, and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse,
- the interaction and relationship of the child with his or her parents and siblings,
- any history of domestic violence, and the safety of the child and either party from physical abuse by the other party,
- the child’s preference, when of sufficient age and capacity to reason,
- the needs of the child,
- the stability of the home environment offered,
- the quality and continuity of the child’s education,
- the fitness of the parties,
- the geographical proximity of the parties’ homes,
- the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or after separation,
- the party’s employment responsibilities
- and the age and number of the children, and
- any other factor the judge determines to be relevant.
Child Support in New Jersey
Child support is determined by the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines that may be found at the New Jersey Child Support website.
Either party may resume any name used before marriage, or may assume any surname.
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