DIVORCE IN NEW JERSEY: PART III (TRANSCRIPT OF 9/19/19 WEBINAR)
THIS IS PART III OF THE TRANSCRIPT FROM OUR WEBINAR ON SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 ABOUT DIVORCE IN NEW JERSEY.
What is traditional litigation? This is where you’re going to file a complaint for divorce and you don’t have an agreement. In your complaint, you’re going to ask for everything that you want. You know, I want to be divorced, I want alimony, I want custody, I want child support, I want to divide our assets. You’re going to ask for everything in your complaint for divorce that you’re looking for. And then you have to serve the complaint on your spouse. Serving your complaint typically means having somebody go and hand it to them. You have probably seen that in the movies. It’s not as exciting as you might have seen before, and often, if your spouse is represented by an attorney, we’ll just send the complaint to that attorney and they’ll sign something saying they received the complaint. Your spouse can also sign an acknowledgement of service, just like I discussed when we were talking about mediation.
Your spouse is then going to have 35 days to respond to your complaint and they’re either going to file an answer or a counterclaim. If they file a counterclaim, you can respond to the counterclaim and you have 20 days to do that. If you have children, both of the parties are going to be scheduled for what’s called the parent education class. Usually like about a month to two months after the complaint is filed, this is where both the parties go and you sit and listen to somebody talk about how important it is to keep the children front and center and not lose sight of the fact that these young people really should not be hurt in any way by the facts you’re going through.
Divorce case information statements have to be filed about 20 days after the defendant answers. The case information statement is a very long financial document that is quite involved. It’s usually not cheap because there’s a lot of work that has to go into it and it’s also typically the most important document in your divorce because what it does is it sets forth your budget. So, when we look at alimony, your budget can be very important. What was your marital standard of living? How much money did you spend on certain items? Then on the flip side, it’s going to show all your assets and liabilities. That’s really important because both parties will sign under oath that these are all of my assets and here are all of my liabilities.
Then, you’re going to have a case management conference, which is basically where the judge sets forth the deadlines in your case. In other words, what’s going to happen schedule wise, what the next occurrence is going be. It’s really just a pro forma thing that has to be done in every case to move things along. Typically, the attorneys will agree to something in terms of without a judge having to order anything.
The average traditional case usually lasts nine to twelve months, which is a long time, but that’s usually about the time frame you’re looking at. If you have children, you’re going to go to custody mediation at the courthouse and this is free. It’s probably one of the few things that’s free in the entire divorce process. But you’re going to go to the courthouse, you’re going to meet with the mediator, who is going to try to help you and your spouse resolve custody and parenting time. Now if you resolve it there, the mediator’s going to put together a custody and parenting time order that they’re going to send to your attorneys that the attorneys can review before it becomes effective.
There might be discovery, which is a request for information, typically bank statements, pay stubs, retirement statements and things like that. If you have real estate, businesses or any pensions, those might need to be appraised and that will happen in the middle of the case. If there is a custody issue that you cannot resolve, then you would have to get a psychologist to do a custody evaluation. I can tell you those are very rare, very rare. I mean, in our office, we do hundreds of cases a year and there’s probably only two or three custody evaluations every year because most people, even though they don’t like each other anymore, they can figure out what’s in the best interest of their kids and want to make change documents and answers to discovery. This all happens in about a three to four month window in the middle of the case.
If there’s any depositions that need to be taken that they’re going to happen there. And depositions are the, you’ve probably have heard of them before, but they’re where you actually go into an attorney’s office, across the table from your spouse’s attorney and they ask you questions and you’re under oath. And then finally in this part of the case you’re going to go to early settlement panel, where two volunteer attorneys will provide recommendations on how your case should settle. It’s a very nice system because it really gives you some feedback and it also is really effective if one side has been very unreasonable during the process, they kind of get kicked in the heads, figuratively speaking, hopefully moving the case towards resolution.
Sometimes motion practice is required. A motion is a request to the court. Obviously, you can have a trial at the end of a case, but before that, if you need to ask the judge to do anything, you have to file this thing called a motion. The thing that’s filed most frequently during divorce is what’s called a pendente lite motion, which is a fancy term, meaning that you’re asking the court to implement a custody and parenting time schedule on a temporary basis and you know, order alimony or child support, maintain insurance policies, like homeowners, auto, life, health, those sorts of things. Basically the point of motion like this is just to maintain the status quo. Sometimes people play games. I know that comes as a shock to everyone that’s on this webinar, but people play games; you file a complaint for divorce, and then all of a sudden one person stops paying things. So, sometimes you have to involve the court to get them to maintain the status quo while the divorce is going on. Also, one person might have a lot more access to money than the other one. A motion can be used to require one spouse to contribute to the counsel fees of the spouse without access to money. Sometimes a discovery motion is required. Those are very infrequent, but this is where a request for information is made and one person just does not want to give it to you. There will be filing deadlines for these motions. Typically they’re heard in about three weeks or so after you file them, but they’re often adjourned. So, a motion typically takes about one to two months for a judge to actually hear it, to make a decision. And then at the end, whenever the motion’s being heard, the judge may have oral argument. This is where the attorney will argue your application to the judge.
Now at the end of traditional litigation, there’s a variety of things that happen. If you do not settle prior to probably the seventh or eighth month mark, you’re going to go to economic mediation. You might be confused because I just discussed mediation earlier, but the mediation I was discussing earlier was voluntary mediation prior to a complaint being filed. Now we’re discussing mandatory mediation that you have to do if you haven’t settled your case seven months in. The court will appoint someone and you go to them and you try to resolve your case. A large portion of divorces that were not settled before the complaint was filed, settle around this time period at mediation.
There’s a common thread here by the way, mediation resolves cases. That’s why you should go ahead and do it at the beginning and not wait until this point, because, by this point, I can guarantee you that you will have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in counsel fees just to get to a place that you could have started at. If you still do not settle at mediation, you’re going to go to a settlement conference with the court. You’re going do a pretrial conference and then a bunch of court appearances that cost a lot of money. Eventually, you’re going to trial. I say eventually because a trial takes forever to get to, and I’m not exaggerating. It could be years and a trial could take months for it to be done. Hopefully you don’t ever go to trial and very few cases go to trial like very few cases.
Usually you’ll end up with a settlement agreement, hopefully as early in the process as possible. Cause the further along you get in the process, before you settle your case, guess what? You’ve spent a lot more money and then you’ll have an uncontested hearing just like I discussed with mediation. If you have a settlement agreement, then you’ll come in for hopefully 10-15 minutes and a judge will divorce you and just make sure everyone voluntarily signed the settlement agreement.
Those are the ways that you can get divorced in New Jersey. Always remember to try to resolve your case before involving the court.
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