Anatomy of a Divorce Series: Filing A Complaint

At some point in your divorce, someone will have to file a Complaint. That could be for one of three reasons: (1) Your spouse is not cooperating with the process, or (2) You have reached a settlement and you’re ready to get final divorce papers deeming you officially divorced, or (3) the reasons explained in my prior blog .

When someone files a Complaint, it just means that the court is now involved in the transaction. We will explain that process in further blogs of this series. For now, what you need to know about the Complaint:

Many people get very upset when they get served with the Complaint. They get this very technical document that has legal lingo in it that might seem foreign to you, and even worse, it may be asking for things like alimony or counsel fees. That would definitely be upsetting to a person, but I am going to break that down for you so that you can understand it’s not really something to get upset about.

The things you are reading in the Complaint are largely just a formality. For example, if you are the breadwinner in the family, and your spouse makes less money than you, he/she is probably going to want alimony. Therefore, it has to be stated in the Complaint that they are looking for alimony. It doesn’t mean that they will get it. Perhaps there are other arguments against it, or perhaps you can craft a settlement agreement where there is no alimony. But your spouse has to put the request in the Complaint or it’s deemed waived.

Same goes for counsel fees. Most (if not all) Complaints for Divorce will include a request that you pay for the other party’s counsel fees. Many of my clients get very upset when they see this because they think it automatically means that they’re going to have to pay the other person’s counsel fees. Maybe, maybe not. Don’t get into a panic over it, because once again, it’s a formality. Those issues will all be fleshed out in the course of the litigation, and most likely through settlement.

Another thing I see clients get very upset about is the designation of “Plaintiff” and “Defendant.” In every case, whether it’s a divorce, or car accident, or a dog bite case, the “Plaintiff” is simply the person who filed the Complaint. That’s all it means. Nothing else. The “Defendant” is the other party. The Plaintiff doesn’t have any particular advantage over the Defendant.

Some people are concerned that for the rest of time, if they are the Plaintiff, they will forever be blamed for the divorce because they “started it.” Again, I highly doubt anyone is going to the courthouse to gather your divorce records. So who would even be looking at these papers? We all know that relationships, especially marriage, and divorce are complicated emotional matters. There is a lot that happened long before the Complaint was filed. Who files the Complaint says nothing about who may have been “wrong” or who behaved better or worse during the marriage. And it says nothing about who may have been the first one to utter the “D” word. So don’t give it a second thought whether you are the Plaintiff or the Defendant.

Check out our next blog when we talk about what happens after someone has filed a Complaint.

If you have been served with a Complaint, or you need help with a divorce matter, please contact us to schedule your Client Vision Meeting by calling 732-529-6937. Or you can schedule it right .

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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