Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey

Learn more about filing for divorce in the Garden State.

What Is Divorce in New Jersey?

Divorce from the bonds of matrimony—or divorce—permanently ends your marriage, meaning neither spouse owes the other any additional marital obligations or duties, and each is free to marry someone else.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce?

When a couple files for divorce, they're asking the court to terminate a legal contract. Spouses must cite a reason (ground) for the divorce before a court will grant it. Depending on where you live, you may be able to ask for a divorce based on no-fault or fault grounds.

Today, all states allow some version of a no-fault divorce, which simply means the couple does not need to prove that one of them did something to cause the marriage to fail. They don't have to get into specific details about who's to blame for the breakup.

No-fault grounds include the following:

  • irreconcilable differences
  • irretrievable breakdown, or
  • a separation for a specific length of time.

In addition to no-fault grounds, some states still allow spouses to pursue a fault-based divorce, which means one spouse claims the other spouse's marital misconduct caused the marriage to fail. The specific fault grounds vary depending on state law, but the most common include adultery, abuse, and abandonment.

New Jersey Is a Hybrid Divorce State

Some states, like California and Michigan, are purely no-fault divorce states, which means that a court won't inquire as to why the marriage ended, only that at least one spouse wants the divorce. But in New Jersey, you have the choice of requesting a no-fault or fault divorce.

If you and your spouse have lived separate for at least the last 18 consecutive months, you can pursue a no-fault divorce based on a separation. The courts in New Jersey presume that if you’ve been living apart and not as a married couple for this amount of time—and you haven’t already worked it out on your own—there’s likely nothing a judge can do to encourage you to save your marriage.

Living apart for 18 months used to be the only way you could file for a no-fault divorce in New Jersey. However, the courts have broadened the no-fault grounds. Today, you can file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences, which basically means that you and your spouse can't get along anymore, and there is no hope you will be able to save the marriage. If you can prove irreconcilable differences for a period of at least six months, you may qualify for a no-fault divorce.

Both types of no-fault divorce require at least one spouse to live in the state of New Jersey for at least one year prior to filing.

What if My Spouse Is at fault?

New Jersey also allows you to file for divorce based on your spouse’s marital misconduct, including:

  • adultery
  • desertion for at least 12 months or more
  • extreme cruelty, which includes physical or mental abuse
  • drug or alcohol addiction
  • a mental illness where a spouse has been institutionalized for at least 2 years after the marriage begins, and
  • deviant sexual behavior by one spouse without the other’s permission

It's important to understand that if you pursue a fault-based divorce, you will have to prove your allegations regarding your spouse's misconduct. While you may feel vindicated by showing the world your spouse was to blame for the divorce, proving this will take time, involve a substantial amount of investigative and attorney work, and increase your legal fees.

You will also have to attend a hearing or trial where you (or your attorney) must convince a judge that your spouse engaged in marital misconduct which caused the divorce. You should consider speaking to a local divorce lawyer about your case before you file for a fault-based divorce. In some states, proving fault can affect alimony, property division, and even child custody. An experienced attorney can help you determine if there is any benefit that would outweigh the added cost and stress that comes along with this type of divorce.

Typically, a no-fault divorce will be less expensive and less adversarial because you don't need to gather and present evidence for trial.

Adultery

In New Jersey, you can file for divorce based on your spouse's affair. The process is generally the same as the other at-fault divorce grounds, except the law doesn’t require you to be a resident of New Jersey for a specific period before you can file. This is much more lenient than the one-year residency requirement in other types of divorce.

It’s important to understand that if you allege adultery as a reason for divorce, like any other grounds, you’ll need to prove it. For example, in one New Jersey case, a wife produced evidence that for one week her husband lived in a one-bedroom apartment with an unidentified woman. This information was enough to convince the court that the husband committed adultery, and the judge granted the wife’s request for a fault-based divorce.

Are There Other Divorce Options in New Jersey?

Yes. Spouses who can agree on all their major legal issues, like property division, custody, child support, and alimony, can file together and request an uncontested divorce. In this type of legal action, both spouses will provide the court with a signed divorce settlement agreement.

If you disagree on any issue before the judge signs the agreement, you have the option to go to trial. Likewise, if you’re going through a no-fault or fault divorce process and you can agree on all of your divorce-related matters, you can ask the judge to change it to an uncontested divorce.

Divorce from bed and board

Couples who wish to leave their relationship, but not necessarily end with divorce, can apply for a divorce from bed and board. Most states refer to this as a legal separation, which means that the court will resolve the same major legal issues as an absolute divorce, but the parties remain married. Neither spouse can remarry without taking steps to convert the divorce from bed and board to a full divorce, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

If a couple reconciles their relationship after obtaining a divorce from bed and board, they can petition the court to revoke or suspend the order, which allows them to avoid the expense of getting remarried.

Divorce from bed and board may seem unorthodox, but for some couples, their religion may prevent them from obtaining a typical divorce. In other families, divorce may not be what’s best for the children, and this may provide the family with a better alternative.

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