Your world is about to change, how much so may be up to you, it may be up to a Judge, it may be up to you and your spouse: Your spouse filed for divorce or you are about to. The easiest part of a divorce is that both parties or one party wants a divorce for sure (it is not emotionally easy, just in technical-procedural terms). The difficult part of a divorce is knowing your rights, what you can get, what you should fight for, what you probably should not fight for, how much a divorce will cost, is mediation an option and if so, do I need a divorce attorney? Yes you should regardless if mediation is involved (usually) or have an attorney review a proposed agreement. The hourly rate you pay the attorney is well worth it because any agreement you sign can have a lasting impact. When you speak to your spouse during difficult times such as this, I am sorry to say but you may trust but verify. Do not trust anyone based on their word on something as important as a divorce and your future. When your spouse pushes you not to hire a lawyer or that you do not need a lawyer, be very careful.
- The first step of a divorce is the actual divorce filing in family court. In Hudson County, the family court is located at 595 Newark Avenue in Jersey City, NJ.
- Step two is to serve the divorce papers on your spouse through your attorney, a sheriff or another way. If you are the spouse receiving the paperwork, you must decide if you agree with what is requested and then answer the divorce complaint under the rules of New Jersey Family Court and Civil Procedure. It is highly suggested to hire a divorce attorney to handle your case.
- Before you meet with a family law attorney, you should write some questions down or a list of things that are important to you and how those items should be handled during a divorce case in New Jersey.
- What are common issues in dispute in a divorce case? Child custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, equitable distribution-division of assets, domestic violence, lawyer fees, residential custody, legal custody, debt payments, liquid assets, etc. Some issues are more difficult to understand and handle than others, other issues are closer to the heart (child custody/parenting time).
- Once you understand what you are seeking and file an answer, the initial aspects of the divorce litigation begins. Some of the initial aspects include exchanging documentation that proves income, assets, debts, ability to parent, parenting time questions and beyond. This timeline usually comes after a case management conference before the family court judge that will decide your case. At the case management conference, your attorney or the attorneys in the case can set an agreed upon schedule within the parameters of the New Jersey Court Rules and Civil Procedure. If you do not have an attorney, you will have to go to court yourself and the Judge, who cannot give legal advice, will ask some questions and then determine how much time or case type you have.
- Once a deadline is set, discovery (the process of discovering/finding out information) begins. You can request documents, you may be demanded to produce documents and you may ask questions in person or in written form and you can be asked the same
- Once discovery is over and a settlement has not been made, the parties will go to the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel where one or two attorneys will give you their opinion of the case. This opinion is just that, an opinion. It is non-binding. However, while it is non-binding, it does give the parties a wake-up call as per their positions and what they are seeking in the case and what they may be at risk of the case goes to a trial judge in family court.
- If the case does not settle at the Early Settlement Panel, the Judge is alerted a trial date can be given as well as economic mediation. The court, with the lawyers are there to try and help you resolve your case. While lawyers bill for their time, most lawyers agree, you should settle your case when you can as you will have input whereas at trial, you are at the mercy of a Judge who does not know you and will not focus on your case all the time, that Judge has hundreds of cases to say the least and even the smartest Judge will not remember all aspects of your life and/or case.
- If economic mediation fails, a trial date will be set and a trial Judge will decide your case after days/weeks/months of testimony, this is not suggested. However, some cases just have to go to trial because of complex issues and sometimes just based on anger, another foolish choice.
While this is a brief article about divorce and the components/stages of a divorce case in New Jersey, we try to educate all potential clients on the importance of every aspect of the case. If you have a family law or divorce case in Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Union City, Weehawken, Hudson County, Essex County or beyond, contact our team on 973-337-9643 for a confidential appointment in our Jersey City office. Until then, think carefully of what is important to you now and how you want to protect what is important to you in the future and how to set your life in a new direction in the right way.
----Santo V. Artusa, Jr, Esq.
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