Divorce in New Jersey is called a "dissolution." Here are answers to some common questions people have about the divorce process in New Jersey.
New Jersey courts charge filing fees for every divorce. In addition to court costs and fees, you might have attorney and mediation fees. All of these costs add up to the total amount you'll pay to get a divorce.
The first step in getting a divorce case started in New Jersey is completing the "Complaint for Divorce" form. Once it's complete, you'll file the form with the Chancery Division, Family Part, of the superior court. Courts charge fees each time you file legal paperwork. The Chancery Division currently charges $300 to file a divorce complaint. If applicable, the court charges an additional $50 per motion (an application to the court for specific relief).
If you are requesting custody or parenting time, there will be an additional $25 fee for a parenting workshop.
If you can't afford to pay the court's filing fees, you can ask the court for a waiver by filing a Certification/Petition/Application in Support of a Fee Waiver. If the court grants your request, you won't have to pay any court costs or fees during your divorce case.
You aren't required to have an attorney to get a divorce in New Jersey—you can DIY your divorce. However, many people choose to hire an attorney to help them navigate the courts and advocate for their interests during the divorce. The cost of an attorney varies widely.
Lawyers usually charge by the hour. In New Jersey, divorce lawyer fees typically range from about $150 to $350 an hour. If your case is relatively simple (for example, with few assets and debts and agreement on all issues) you should be able to keep attorneys' fees and court charges to a minimum.
When your divorce is contested, though, it will likely mean that your attorney will have to work more hours, increasing your total attorneys' fees. If you end up filing numerous court motions, fees can skyrocket. If you have to hire experts (for example, child custody experts, accountants, or pension experts), you'll probably spend several thousands of dollars on professional fees alone.
In truth, it's virtually impossible to predict how much a divorce will cost. No one can be certain in advance of all of the legal or factual issues that might come up in your case. It's also difficult to gauge whether your spouse (or your spouse's attorney) will disagree with you on every point, or intentionally engage in behavior that increases legal fees. Some spouses start off agreeable, but end up fighting to the bitter end.
The best way to keep costs down is to avoid court where possible, and try to resolve as many issues as you can directly with your spouse. One way to do this is to try divorce mediation. If you and your spouse can reach a settlement agreement over the issues in your divorce—such as property division, alimony (spousal support), and child custody—you might be able to file an uncontested divorce without the help of an attorney. The cost of mediation is usually much lower than hiring an attorney.
Whether you should hire an attorney depends on many factors, including the complexity of your case, your financial situation, your comfort level with representing yourself, and whether your spouse has hired a lawyer.
You can represent yourself in your New Jersey divorce. Representing yourself especially makes sense if the issues in your divorce are straightforward, and you believe your spouse has disclosed all relevant financial information, including all documents regarding both spouses' assets, debts, income, and expenses. You can get a lot of information about representing yourself in a divorce on the New Jersey Courts' online Self-Help Center.
It will also help if you and your spouse agree on alimony, child support, child custody, and the division of property. If so, you can enter into a settlement agreement, which is a written contract between spouses that resolves divorce issues. Once you have a settlement agreement, you can file an uncontested divorce, which is usually less expensive and gets resolved faster than a contested divorce.
But, even if you and your spouse have managed to come up with a proposed settlement on all issues, it's wise to ask an attorney to review the agreement on your behalf, before you sign it, so you can make sure your legal rights are protected.
Even if you and your spouse agree on most issues, if your spouse has hired a lawyer, you should consider at least consulting one. When only one spouse has a lawyer, the playing field is uneven, and the spouse with an attorney will be at an advantage when negotiating issues in the divorce.
Many divorcing couples are faced with challenging legal issues and complicated financial questions that only an expert can handle. For example, you might have questions about whether property belongs to the marital estate or a separate estate, how to value and divide a pension, how to value and divide business interests, or how to impute income for support.
Some divorces involve heated custody battles and bitter disputes over property, alimony, or child support. Your spouse might want to fight you on everything and reject all of your proposals. If so, you'll end up in a court battle. The legal rules for court procedures take many years to master; they are not something you'll be able to learn on your own. Under these circumstances, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney that can guide you through the divorce process and, if necessary, represent you in court.
In divorce cases, courts have the authority to order one spouse (the "payor spouse") to pay the other spouse's (the "requesting spouse") attorneys' fees during the divorce proceeding and at the conclusion of the divorce. When faced with a request for attorneys' fees, a court will consider several factors including:
If you're going through a divorce, but can't afford to hire a lawyer, you should speak with an attorney and ask whether you're entitled to an award of legal fees from your spouse.
You must meet a state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce in its courts. To get a divorce in New Jersey, one of the spouses must be a resident of the state for at least one year immediately before the divorce is filed. The exception to this rule is if the divorce is based on adultery grounds; in that case, there's no required length of residency in order to file. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-10 (2022).)
"Service" of divorce papers is the legal process by which you give your spouse the required notice of the divorce. This basically means you need to make sure your spouse gets a copy of the divorce complaint and summons, and any other paperwork you file with the court. In New Jersey, you have 30 days from the date you file your complaint to provide written proof of service to the court.
The easiest way to accomplish service is to get your spouse to agree to accept service, and sign an Acknowledgement of Service form. Once your spouse has filed the acknowledgment, you'll need to file it with the court.
If your spouse refuses to accept service voluntarily, you'll have to ask a third parson to serve your spouse. This third person could be the local sheriff, your attorney or attorney's agent (such as a process server), or another competent adult that doesn't have a direct interest in your case. You aren't allowed to serve the divorce papers on your spouse yourself. (N.J. Court Rule 4:4-3 (2022).)
This third person should deliver the complaint and summons to your spouse (literally hand them to your spouse), or deliver them to your spouse's home, and leave them with a competent member of your spouse's household that's at least 14 years old.
If, despite your efforts, your spouse manages to avoid service, you might be able to mail a copy of the summons and complaint to your spouse's home address via registered or certified mail. (N.J. Court Rule 4:4-4 (2022).)