The court does not grant "legal separations". If you are living separate and apart from your spouse, you may consider yourself as being separated.
There are several grounds or legal reasons which allow the court to grant a divorce and rules that govern when you may file your complaint:
A. Adultery - There is no waiting period;
B. Extreme cruelty - You may file three months after the last act of cruelty occurred;
C. Desertion - You must wait 12 months after the desertion occurs before filing your complaint;
D. Separation- If you and your spouse have been living separate and apart for 18 consecutive months, you may file a complaint for divorce with the 18 month separation as grounds.
E. Irreconcilable differences -6 months from time differences began. See Rule 5:4-2 for additional grounds.
If a case is a simple uncontested case you can get a divorce in approximately 3-6 months. If it is contested (a case where an answer is filed), the time it may take will vary.
NJ Court Rule 5:1-4 Differentiated Case Management in Civil Family Actions
Dissolution cases are managed according to their complexity. Based upon Differentiated Case Management (DCM), a dissolution case will be assigned to one of four case management tracks. The track assignment will be made by a Family Division Judge after all parties have filed Case Information Statements or after the Case Management Conference. In making the track assignment, consideration is given to the attorney’s request for a particular track assignment. DCM tracks are not assigned to summary actions.
Priority Track: Cases involving contested custody or parenting-time issues.
Complex Track: Cases likely to require a great amount of court and litigant resources in preparation for trial. Cases shall be assigned to the complex track if it is likely that it will require a disproportionate expenditure of court and litigant resources in preparation for and at trial due to the number of parties involved, the number of claims and defenses raised, the legal difficulty of the issues presented, the factual difficulty of the subject matter, the length and complexity of discovery, or a combination of these or other factors.
Expedited Track: Cases where it appears the matter can be promptly tried with minimal pretrial proceedings, including discovery. Cases shall be assigned to the expedited track if (A) there is no dispute as to either the income of the parties or the material assets and no issue of custody or parenting time has been raised; (B) the parties have been married less than five years and have no children; (C) the parties have entered in to a property settlement agreement or (D) the action is uncontested.
Standard Track: Any case that does not qualify for the priority, complex, or expedited track assignments.
Mediation is a process in which an impartial third party, called a mediator, assists parties in reaching agreements having to do with custody and visitation disputes. Mediation provides the parents with an opportunity to actively participate in making decisions which will affect the child(ren). As a parent, one maintains control over determining a "parenting plan" in which each parent and the child(ren) can live with. No child support or property issues are addressed at mediation.
There are three ways in which you may become involved with this program:
1) The case may be referred directly from court, by a Family Court judge. At the time of the hearing, the judge may decide that your issues might be resolved more easily with the assistance of a mediator and the judge may refer the matter to the Mediation Program via a court order.
2) When a complaint for custody and visitation is initially filed, that complaint may be screened by a case manager and found to be an appropriate case for mediation.
3) The particular matter may have been referred for a custody or visitation investigation. If this is done, the matter will automatically be screened to determine if it is appropriate for mediation. In the event it is appropriate, the parent(s) will automatically become involved in the Program.
You are strongly advised to have an attorney represent you. This is particularly true if you must make decisions as to property, custody, visitation and support.
You do not have to have an attorney if you choose not to, however, it is then your responsibility to prepare the necessary papers. Court staff will file your prepared documents but they are not allowed to prepare them for you or instruct you in how they should be prepared. The only exception to this is in filing a motion.[top of page]
The court will not appoint an attorney for you. If you feel that you cannot afford an attorney, you may contact:
Atlantic County Bar Association at 609-345-3444.
Cape May County Bar Association at (609) 463-0313.
South Jersey Legal Services 1-888-576-5529.
My spouse has filed a complaint for divorce. Do I have to get an attorney and file an answer? What happens if I don't?
You do not have to get an attorney or file an answer
if you have no issues you want the court to decide or if you do not wish to
contest any of the statements contained in the complaint for divorce. If you
decide not to file an answer, the divorce will still be granted. This is called
a Default Judgment and is another way of saying a non-contested divorce was
If you do want to contest an issue in the complaint you have 35 days from the day after you were served with the complaint and summons to file your answer.
If the complaint for divorce establishes legal grounds for divorce, you cannot prevent the other party from seeking divorce.[top of page]
There are several factors that determine when your case will be scheduled for court.
A. If your divorce is not contested, your case may be placed on a court calendar as early as three months after you file your complaint. This is an estimated time as the judge can only hear a certain number of cases on any given day. Your case may have to wait for the "next available calendar date." Calendars are scheduled at least a month in advance. You, your spouse and your attorney will receive a notice advising everyone of the date you must appear in court.
B. If your divorce is contested, it will take longer for your case to be scheduled for court. You will be scheduled for either a case management conference or early settlement panel. This is because there may be certain reports or evaluations that must be completed before your case can be heard. For example, if you and your spouse jointly own property, the court may need an appraisal of the property.[top of page]
A complaint and answer have been filed in my case. Is there anything I can do to help "speed up" the process?
There are several things that you can do to help the process.
A. The attorneys representing you and your spouse will conference with you and your spouse. They will try to guide you in settling disputed issues before going to court. If these issues are settled, a "settlement agreement" is prepared and will become a part of your Judgment of Divorce. You can help this process by setting aside any hard feelings you may have and sincerely try to resolve the issues in question.
B. You may be referred to an Early Settlement Panel. You, your spouse and your lawyers will meet with a panel of two experienced matrimonial attorneys who will help you resolve all outstanding financial and support issues in your case. Support guidelines which have been set down by the State of New Jersey are used to determine the amount of child support/alimony to be paid. If an agreement is reached, the agreement will become part of your judgment of divorce.[top of page]
If you have attended a Matrimonal Early Settlement Conference and have been unable to reach an agreement, your case will be placed on a trial calendar and will be heard by a judge.[top of page]
Is it better for me to have my case scheduled for trial and have a judge hear my case rather than go to an early settlement panel?
Trials can be lengthy. The judge is scheduled to hear many cases each day. The Judge also must make time to conference cases with attorneys. This means that your case may take several days for the judge to hear. Your trial may be listed on a calendar over a period of weeks or even months. This is expensive for you, as you must be prepared to take time off work for court appearances, additional fees for your lawyer and tends to prolong your case which is an additional emotional burden for you.[top of page]
Equitable distribution does not mean that you and your spouse will divide your property on a "50/50" basis. It means that your property will be divided according to what is "fair and reasonable" under the circumstances of your particular case.[top of page]
You may be referred to a Family Court mediator who is trained to assist you and your spouse to make custodial arrangements which best reflect your lifestyle and the needs of your children. If an agreement is reached, the terms of the agreement are written up in the form of a court order which will be signed by a judge. If an agreement is not reached, the court may order a custody investigation. A probation officer will interview all parties and make a written recommendation to the court. This report is reviewed by the judge and the attorneys and the recommendation is given strong consideration at the time of the custody hearing.[top of page]
On the day of my custody hearing, do I bring the children to court? Will the judge want to speak with the children?
Do not bring your children to court! The court does not allow children to sit in the court during proceedings. You may be in court all day. It is very difficult for children to sit in the hallway all day where there is nothing for them to do and no place where they can safely play. Court staff cannot watch your children while you are in court.
In the event the judge wants to speak to your children, he will schedule an interview for a specific time and day when he will interview the children.[top of page]
The judge must follow certain rules and is not allowed by rule to speak privately with the parties appearing in a case. You may place your concerns before the judge through your attorney, put your concerns in writing in a form of certification or you may speak with the judge yourself at the time of your court hearing if you do not have an attorney.[top of page]
My divorce has not been scheduled for court yet, but I need some help now. Do I have to wait until my divorce hearing? What can be done?
The court can make temporary decisions until the judgment of divorce is granted. Your or your attorney can file a pre-judgment motion to have the judge make a temporary decision until your divorce comes to court. For example, the judge may grant a motion for temporary support until there is an opportunity to hear your case.[top of page]
I was divorced several years ago and my situation has changed since my divorce was granted. How do I get a court order that reflects my changed circumstances?
You or your attorney may file a post-judgment motion to have the judge make a decision about your request for change. If your divorce was granted in Atlantic or Cape Counties, your motion must also be filed in Atlantic or Cape Counties. If your divorce was granted in a different county, you must file your motion in the county where you were divorced, even if you are presently a resident of Atlantic or Cape Counties.[top of page]