This site is designed to provide you with some general information about the court process and answer some frequently asked questions about matrimonial matters. This site may not contain all of the questions you may have regarding matrimonial matters.
- I want to file for a "legal separation." How do I do that?
- How long do I have to wait before I can file a complaint for divorce?
- Do I have to have an attorney?
- What if I cannot afford an attorney? Will the court appoint an attorney for me?
- 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?
- My spouse filed for divorce and I do not want to get a divorce. Can I stop it?
- I have filed a complaint for divorce. When will I go to court?
- A complaint and answer have been filed in my case. Is there anything I can do to help "speed up" the process?
- What happens if no agreement is reached in any early settlement conference?
- 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?
- What is "equitable distribution"? Does it mean that we divide everything "50/50"?
- My spouse and I are both seeking custody of the children. What happens now?
- On the day of my custody hearing, do I bring the children to court? Will the judge want to speak with the children?
- I want to speak to the judge; is that possible?
- 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?
- 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?
- I lost my copy of my judgment of divorce. How do I get another copy?
- What happens after the divorce?
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. "No Fault" - 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.
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.
The court will not appoint an attorney for you. If you feel that you cannot afford an attorney, you may contact the Hudson County Legal Services located at 574 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey (201) 792-6363 or the Hudson County Bar Association's Referral Service at (201) 332-9669. Court staff are not allowed to make attorney referrals.
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 granted.
If the complaint for divorce establishes legal grounds for divorce, you cannot prevent the other party from seeking divorce.
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 will receive a notice advising you or your attorney 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. 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.
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.
If you have attended an 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 or you may speak with the judge yourself at the time of your court hearing if you do not have an attorney.
The court can make temporary decisions until the judgment of divorce is granted. 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 may be granted by the judge until there is an opportunity to hear your case.
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 Hudson County, your motion must also be filed in Hudson County. 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 Hudson County.
If you were divorced prior to the year 2000, you must obtain a copy of your divorce judgment from the
If you were divorced in Hudson County from the years 2000 and following, you may write to the Direct Filing Unit:
595 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, New Jersey 07306
It will take approximately ten days for your copy to be available. Please call (201) 795-5667 after ten days and you will be advised of the processing fee. (A fee per page is required.) When your judgment is ready, you may pick it up in room 203. Please have a money order made payable to "Treasurer, State of New Jersey" for the correct amount when you pick up your judgment. If you need a certified copy (with a seal), there is an additional charge of $5.00 for the seal.
Regardless of the reasons, and even though your marriage did not work, you have the opportunity to make your divorce work. You each have a choice. There are no winners in a divorce case. Although the marriage is dissolved, the family continues to exist in a new form. You can continue to feel anger, resentment, and bitterness which can have a negative affect on you and your children for the rest of your lives. Or, you may look forward to a new start based on the reasonable obligations of you, your spouse, and the needs of your children. The court, in granting a divorce, attempts to resolve some of the marital problems concerning division of property, support, custody and visitation. To what degree this works, depends on your willingness to cooperate with the terms contained in your judgment of divorce.
The Family Court judges, your lawyers and Family Court staff, will make every effort possible to assist you through this difficult time. The Family Court Matrimonial Unit is located at 595 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey, second floor, telephone (201) 795-6635. Court hours are 8:30 a.m. through 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.