Deciding to represent yourself in your divorce can feel overwhelming. To help you navigate the court system, this article provides a basic overview of divorce in New Jersey.
New Jersey courts use the terms “divorce” and “dissolution” interchangeably. Both words mean the same---a court process that ends the marriage. The court will also make decisions about divorce-related issues, such as child custody and support, division of debts and assets, and alimony.
The spouse who files for (requests) divorce is the “plaintiff” and the other spouse is the “defendant.”
The document that is submitted to the court to start the process is the “Complaint for Divorce/Dissolution.” New Jersey courts have four types of divorce complaint forms to start the divorce.
At least one spouse must be a New Jersey resident for at least 12 consecutive months before filing for divorce.
A “no-fault” divorce means that neither spouse has caused the marriage to end. New Jersey has two types of no-fault divorce:
A “fault” divorce means that one spouse’s actions or behavior has caused the marriage to fall apart. Although there are a number of reasons or “grounds” under state law, two of the more common fault grounds are:
To determine whether these or any other grounds fit your situation, you should consult an experienced New Jersey family law attorney.
The other documents that must be filed with the complaint are:
Make at least three copies of your complaint and related divorce paperwork. The court requires that you provide one original and two copies. You should provide the court with a self-addressed stamped envelope so the court can return to you a copy of what you filed. The copy will be marked “filed.”
New Jersey law requires that you, the plaintiff, file in the county where the reason you gave for the divorce actually happened, even if you don’t live in that county anymore. For example, if the spouses have lived apart for 18 months, the county where the plaintiff last lived during or at the end of the 18 months is where the divorce is filed (submitted), even if the plaintiff no longer lives there. If the complaint says that one spouse deserted the other for 12 months, the complaint is filed in the county where the deserted spouse last lived at the end the 12 months.
If you were living outside New Jersey when your marriage began to deteriorate, you can file in the New Jersey county where you now live.
To find the court for your county, go to the state court website at www.judiciary.state.nj.us/. Click on the "Courts" tab. Go to the link for “Local Courthouse Addresses” and scroll down for your county courthouse.
For information on the court fees to file the complaint or to ask for a waiver of the fees, go to the state court website at www.judiciary.state.nj.us. Go to the “Forms” tab and then to the “Legal Practice Forms” tab. Go to the link “State of New Jersey Court Fees” for the fees list.
Once the court mails you a copy of the complaint stamped “filed,” you fill out the summons and attached proof of service (form 7). Under New Jersey law, the defendant must be served with a copy of the divorce paperwork (see below) by one of the following methods:
The divorce paperwork is:
Make at least three copies of the divorce paperwork. Send two copies to the sheriff and keep one for your files. Send the sheriff a self-addressed stamped envelope so the sheriff can send you proof that the defendant received the paperwork. Include a check or money order for the sheriff’s fees. Call the sheriff’s office for fee information.
If the defendant’s attorney is receiving the divorce paperwork, he or she will send you an “Acknowledgement of Service.” Send this form to the court to show the defendant has a copy of the divorce paperwork.
When you receive proof that the defendant received the divorce paperwork, mail that proof to the court. Keep a copy of the proof for your records.
If your spouse is out of state, contact the sheriff in the county where the defendant lives. Go to the website for the state where the defendant lives for contact info about the county sheriff. The civil process of the sheriff’s office in any county provides service of divorce papers.
The defendant has 35 days after receipt of the divorce paperwork to do one or more of the following:
Legal Services of New Jersey’s brochure, “Divorce in New Jersey, A Self-Help Guide” can be found on the website,www.lsnj.org. Click on the “get legal help” tab. Click on the “LSNJLaw” link to get to the “family and relationships” link. This free version of the brochure does not contain the court-approved forms. However, the guide that LSNJ offers for sale has the court forms. Go to the “publications” tab on the website for more information.
The state’s judiciary website, www.judiciary.state.nj.us, has some of the forms. Please note that the actual complaint form that starts the divorce does not appear on the court website. For other forms from the judiciary’s home page, go to the “forms” tab. Click on the “legal forms tab” and scroll down near the bottom of the page for some of the forms. Others can be found at the ”legal practice forms” tab. Again scroll down toward the bottom of the page for other forms.