If you and your spouse have agreed to end your marriage, and can negotiate an agreement on how to divide your property and care for your children, your divorce will be much easier -- and less expensive -- than the court battle you would otherwise face. This article explains the process for getting an uncontested divorce in New Jersey. For all of our articles on New Jersey family law, including child custody, alimony, and more, see our New Jersey Divorce and Family Law page.
It's a good thing that you agree on the divorce; that will make the process easier on you both emotionally and practically. However, it isn't enough to simply decide that you no longer want to be married. In New Jersey, you must have grounds for divorce.
Grounds are simply a valid reason for the divorce, as authorized by the laws of New Jersey. You can get a divorce on fault or no-fault grounds. The fault grounds for divorce are:
desertion for at least a year
drug or alcohol abuse
imprisonment of one spouse for at least 18 months
institutionalization of one spouse for mental illness for at least two years, or
New Jersey also has two no-fault grounds for divorce. You can file for divorce if you have lived separately for at least 18 continuous months and have no reasonable prospect of reconciling. Or, you can file for divorce if you have irreconcilable differences.
Not necessarily; it depends on whether you are able to agree on how to handle your assets and responsibilities, including for your children. Most people are not actually fighting over the reason for the divorce. Rather, the disagreements usually have to do with property, alimony, child support, and custody or visitation issues.
In order to follow through with your uncontested divorce, you will need to resolve all of those issues. The truth is that most divorces actually are "uncontested" in the end. That is, very few cases actually go to trial. Couples that can't reach an agreement might hire attorneys to fight or negotiate a deal, but over time all of the issues are resolved and they proceed with an uncontested divorce.
With or without an attorney, you and your spouse need to divide all of your assets , including personal property, real estate, automobiles, bank accounts, pensions, 401(k) plans, and so on. You will also have to divide all of your debts (mortgage, credit cards, tax liens, etc.). New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means that a court would divide your property and debts fairly, but not necessarily equally. If you and your spouse make your own agreement, however, you can come up with a division of property and debts that works best for both of you.
You will also need to agree on alimony, also called spousal support. Will one of you pay the other support? If so, how much and for how long? If one of you passed up career opportunities to raise your children or take care of the home, it might be fair to require the other to pay support. On the other hand, if both of you worked throughout your marriage and are able to support yourselves, alimony might not be necessary.
If you have minor children, you need to decide where they will live and who will care for them. Will you share custody equally, or will one of you be the primary custodial parent? What will you do for the children's vacations, important religious holidays, and special events, such as First Holy Communion, Bar Mitzvah, graduations, birthdays, recitals, school plays, and parent-teacher conferences? You don't have come up with a calendar of how you will spend each day in the future, but the more specific you can be in deciding these issues up front, the more stability you can offer your children through the divorce process.
You will also need to resolve child support, taking into account the children's needs, and each parent's income, earning capacity, and expenses. Make sure you think about how you will handle all of your children's expenses, from day care and diapers to orthodontia and car insurance. Also, you may want to discuss, or at least agree to discuss at some future date, what you will each contribute for the children to go to college.
Now you know why divorce can be so expensive. Obviously, the more cooperative you and your spouse are, the less expensive and traumatic this experience is for everyone.
Once you have reached agreement on all of these issues, you need to put them in writing in a settlement agreement, which you will present to the court. An attorney can help you draft the agreement.
Either of you can actually file the divorce papers; the spouse who doesn't file the papers should sign an "Acknowledgment of Service" form. This relieves the filing spouse of the responsibility (and expense) for formally serving the divorce paperwork on the other spouse. The court will hold a final hearing on your divorce, at which the judge will review your paperwork and settlement agreement. As long as everything is in order and you haven't left anything for the judge to decide, your divorce will be granted.