Divorce Law in a "Nutshell"
Filing for Divorce in New Jersey
Any New Jersey Divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce. After the Complaint is served upon the other spouse and an Answer is filed, the matter is placed on the court calendar as a contested case. A period of discovery is then allowed whereby both parties are required to exchange detailed financial disclosure forms which are called Case Information Statements. The Case Information Statement lists all assets, liabilities, income and expenses of the parties. Additional discovery can then be undertaken whereby Interrogatories are exchanged requiring the other party to answer, under oath, a more detailed list of questions. A Notice to Produce can also be served on the other party requiring the submission of documents such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills and other relevant documents.
Any party may also be required to sit for a deposition requiring him or her to answer oral questions in an informal setting. These answers are used as an additional discovery technique in order to acquire further information and/or to preserve sworn testimony in the event of trial.
The court will schedule a Case Management Conference which will detail the scheduling of the entire case and the dates by when all discovery is to be completed. Provision will also be made for the submission of pension plan information, 401K accounts, annuities and any other retirement accounts. If real estate or businesses need to be evaluated, experts may need to be hired in order to determine values and the manner in which these assets are to be distributed.
Uncontested New Jersey Divorce
Any time an agreement is reached, the matter can become uncontested and scheduled for an uncontested hearing before the court. At that point, a Property Settlement Agreement will be prepared by the attorneys which will detail the entire understanding between the parties and spell out the exact terms of the settlement.
The agreement will include the manner in which child custody and timesharing of the children are to be divided, whether alimony (spousal support/maintenance) is to be paid and the duration of the alimony, the amount of the child support calculated and how all assets and liabilities are to be distributed. The agreement will also provide for child care expenses, whether life insurance is required, how medical costs will be paid, and the parties’ respective responsibilities toward college education of the children.
Contested New Jersey Divorce
Should the matter continue on a contested basis, the court will schedule the case for an Early Settlement Panel in approximately six to seven months from the filing of the action. Case profile forms must be submitted prior to the Early Settlement Panel date detailing each party’s respective position with regard to all of the issues in the case.
The parties, with their divorce attorneys , are then required to proceed to non-binding arbitration with the Early Settlement Panel. At this proceeding the Case Profile forms are reviewed and the panel will hear the argument of counsel as well as the opinions of the litigants. After considering all of the oral and written submissions, the panel will confer between themselves and will make a recommendation with regard to aiding in the settlement of the case. The panel consists of two experienced matrimonial attorneys who volunteer to help the court in settling divorce cases. The vast majority of divorce cases are settled prior to trial and the Early Settlement Panel can be helpful in presenting an independent, disinterested, third party voice to the litigants as to a possible resolution of the various issues presented.
The Early Settlement Panel will usually not become involved in issues of custody or timesharing. Should the parties be unable to resolve these issues between themselves, they may be required to attend court ordered custody/visitation mediation. This is a program provided by the county free of charge which attempts to resolve all such issues without the necessity of litigation.
If the case is still not settled after it proceeds to the Early Settlement Panel, the court can schedule settlement conference dates and ultimately a trial date. If the matter does proceed to trial, the parties and any witnesses will testify in open court and present the case in a formal manner to the Judge along with all evidential documentation. The court will then make the determination with regard to all issues presented.
The exact custody arrangement must be addressed in particular. Child custody arrangements vary from one case to another. Typically, the parties are awarded joint legal custody which requires mutual discussion and consultation with regard to any major or important decision that affects the welfare of the children. These decisions can be in the area of academics, medical care, religious upbringing, and the sort. One party can then be designated the parent of primary physical or residential custody which means that the children primarily reside with that parent. The other party is entitled to timesharing which has to be determined. Holidays and vacation time must also be resolved.
(Some cases may allow for shared physical custody of the children. Difficult cases may require the hiring of an expert such as a psychologist to perform evaluations of the parties and, in appropriate cases, with the children as well.)
If, during the pendency of the litigation, one party needs to make an application to the court for support or other temporary relief, there is a mechanism whereby a temporary application can be made at any time (pendente lite motion). Typically in such an application, one party asks for a temporary support order as well as the payment of certain household expenses. The court will attempt to maintain the status quo while the divorce case proceeds and insure that the parties’ expenses are being paid and that the mortgage, utilities, insurance costs and car payments are not being neglected.
How is New Jersey Child Support Determined?
Child support is determined and calculated based upon Child Support Guidelines that have been implemented by the State of New Jersey. Both parties’ incomes must be analyzed in order to determine their gross incomes and their net allowable incomes for child support determination purposes. If alimony is to be paid to a spouse, the amount of alimony must be calculated first and inserted into the child support calculation equation. After determining both parties’ respective incomes with an amount of alimony to be paid, the appropriate child support calculations are determined.