Things to Do before You File for Divorce in New Jersey
A divorce can be complex and emotionally draining, but there are steps you can take to ease the process. Before you file for divorce in New Jersey, familiarize yourself with the process so you can know what to expect, meet all deadlines, and lessen stress.
If you can gather all documents in advance and have some preliminary discussions with your ex, this can simplify things. The more agreements you and your ex can reach ahead of time, the easier the process will be. Mediation can help with this if there are sticking points where you don’t agree.
How to prepare to file for divorce in New Jersey
Gather important documents
Collect all relevant financial and legal documents, such as these:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificates of children (if applicable)
- Bank statements
- Tax returns (at least the past three years)
- Pay stubs and income documentation
- Mortgage and property records
- Retirement account statements
- Credit card statements
- Insurance policies
Create an inventory of assets and debts
Create a comprehensive list of your marital assets and liabilities. This should include real estate, vehicles, investments, and any other property acquired during the marriage. If there are special items or items of worth that are important to you or your spouse, such as family heirlooms or expensive purchases, include those as well.
Determine how those assets will be divided
Create a rough list of who will get what. Be specific about amounts, if financial accounts are included. Note who will take ownership of artwork, furniture, the house, and other items so both people can clearly see that the division of assets is equitable.
Consider entering mediation to help clarify the details of your marital settlement agreement. For example, who will keep the family home? The marital car? How will you structure a child custody arrangement?
Working with a mediator to hammer out these details is less expensive than involving divorce attorneys. A mediator is trained in conflict resolution. If both spouses are willing, you can work together amicably to find solutions regarding your divorce details.
Establish your post-divorce budget
Calculate and set aside money for your post-divorce needs, and create a budget you feel you can sustain. Doing this will help you understand exactly what you will need after the divorce so you can negotiate appropriate spousal support and property division issues.
It may be helpful to work with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) to figure out some of these details.
Consider child custody and support
If you have children, think carefully about their custody and support arrangements. Map out a rough parenting plan that includes regular schedules as well as holidays. Aim to prioritize the well-being of the children above all else while accounting for each parent’s preferences. This is an area where the help of a mediator can be vital.
Make copies of important documents
Make three copies of documents necessary for the divorce process, reserving one for submission to the court when needed and one for each of you for personal record keeping.
Things to know before filing for divorce in New Jersey
Here are some key things to be aware of before filing for divorce in New Jersey.
Before filing for divorce in New Jersey, you or your spouse must meet the residency guidelines. Typically, one party must be a resident of New Jersey for a minimum of 12 months before filing for divorce.
You may also need to be separated for a period of time prior to filing. This requirement may or may not factor into your situation; it depends on your grounds for divorce.
Grounds for divorce
In New Jersey, you can file for an at-fault divorce or a no-fault divorce. No-fault divorces are often preferred because they are straightforward. A no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences requires that there has been a breakdown in the marriage for at least six months.
Fault-based divorce grounds may include adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, or substance abuse. You could also file for divorce based on separation if you have been living apart for at least 18 months.
Decide in advance the grounds you will use when filing. Make sure you meet all requirements for those grounds before getting started.
Assess your situation. Which type of divorce do you anticipate: contested or uncontested? An uncontested divorce is typically faster and less expensive because both parties agree on all divorce terms. A contested divorce involves disputes that may require court intervention. This route is far more costly and takes longer to complete. It’s worth the effort to work together if you think an uncontested divorce is possible.
Gather financial documents and information, including bank statements, tax returns, pay stubs, mortgage information, and records of assets and debts. This information will be crucial during property division and spousal support negotiations.
Consider your immediate financial needs and those of your children, if applicable. Temporary orders for support or custody may need to be established while the divorce is pending.
Understand how marital property division works in New Jersey. Equitable distribution means that marital assets are split fairly but not necessarily equally among all partners.
If the two of you agree to something different outside the stipulation of the law, make a note of this. For example, if one party came into the marriage with a large amount of property or savings and it is agreed that they should leave with that same amount, bring this documentation.
Negotiation and mediation
Be ready for negotiation or mediation sessions to reach agreements on issues like property division, custody arrangements, and support payments. If you are flexible and willing to work together, you can avoid lengthy and costly trials.
If there are points that you and your spouse do not agree upon, make a list of what you want and your reasoning behind each item. This can help you make the most of your time in mediation and limit the number of mediation sessions needed.
Attend all required court hearings. In contested divorces, multiple court appearances may be necessary before reaching a final judgment.
If you are not present, the judge may give the party who is present more of what they are asking for. This is because they are present to explain the reasoning behind their requests while you are not represented. If you have an emergency that prevents you from being physically present, contact the court as soon as possible, and request to attend by phone.
Divorce, Dissolution of a Civil Union, and Retirement Benefits. (February 2019). New Jersey Division of Pensions & Benefits.
Custody/Visitation. New Jersey Courts.
Divorce. New Jersey Courts.
Contested and Uncontested Divorces. New Jersey Courts.
Responding to a Divorce Complaint. New Jersey Courts.
Modifying a Divorce Order. New Jersey Courts.
Marital Property. (March 2022). Cornwell Law School.