Issues such as dividing property and raising children can become emotional, and the process of dissolving a marriage can become complicated. Here are some legal issues to consider if you are divorcing in New Jersey.
Will You Require an Attorney?
For couples with little property and no minor children, completing the required documentation is not complicated. But it is a good idea to, at minimum, have an attorney review the paperwork and your case for possible future problems.
Though annulments are rarely granted, New Jersey law permits a legal declaration that the marriage never existed. Grounds include bigamy, lack of consensual age, or incapacity to enter into marriage due to intoxication or insanity. The state also allows "limited divorce," under which agreements allocate property, custody, and support but do not legally dissolve the marriage. The limited divorce order can be revoked or suspended in the event of reconciliation.
Grounds for Divorce
New Jersey allows no-fault divorces if the parties have been residing separately for 18 months. Additional grounds for divorce and their waiting periods include:
- Adultery: no waiting period
- Extreme cruelty: three months from the last act of cruelty
- Desertion: 12 months
Divorces that become protracted and contentious can be costly. That is why many couples favor mediation and negotiation to help them reach agreements on matters such as custody, property, and maintenance without the expense of drawn-out litigation. Though mediation is not required in New Jersey except for child custody, couples frequently are referred to Early Settlement Panels of experienced attorneys who will help resolve differences.
A spouse who is fearful of an estranged partner may request a protective order in an emergency. For urgent matters such as child custody or spousal maintenance, either party can request temporary orders with the terms becoming permanent if the conditions remain satisfactory. If there are amicable co-parenting arrangements and minimal assets, a single order sometimes can dispense with the entire dissolution, but separate filings frequently become necessary in complicated cases.
Property and Debts
New Jersey law requires equitable distribution of property, which means that division of marital assets and debts should be fair and reasonable. This is not necessarily the same as an even split. If couples cannot agree on a division of marital property, a judge considers evidence such as the length of the marriage and any written agreements. Not every asset is marital property; gifts bestowed to one person, inheritances, or property brought into the marriage by one party usually are individual property not subject to distribution.
Child Custody and Support
There are two types of custody: Legal custody includes medical, educational, and physical, which determines living arrangements. New Jersey favors joint custody in most situations, and if parents cannot reach a mutual arrangement, a judge will decide what it is in the best interest of the child. Both parenting education and custody mediation are required. Visitation and support are separate issues, with state guidelines setting parameters for financial payments, although a judge can consider various factors and increase or decrease the statutory amount. There are tax implications for support payments—spousal support recipients are taxed on what they receive, but those receiving child support are not.
Because of the expense, medical matters can become contentious. If one spouse has been providing family health insurance, that spouse commonly will continue coverage for a specific interim period. Parents customarily will split noncovered expenses for children.
After the divorce, women may retain married surnames or return to previous names, but the final decree must incorporate either request. Sometimes situations change, and one party will file a post-judgment motion to alter custody, visitation, or support orders; a judge will decide whether to issue the order.
Seeking Legal Assistance
This article is a general overview of New Jersey divorce law. It is best to consult a local attorney for advice about specific issues.
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