This article will address the following frequently asked questions:
- How long does it take to get a divorce in New Jersey?
- Do I need to hire an attorney to handle my divorce?
- Can my spouse and I use the same attorney?
- How much will my divorce cost?
- Can I force my spouse to pay for my legal fees in a divorce?
- What are the requirements for filing for divorce?
- Do I have to continue to live in the house with my spouse during the divorce?
- Can I change the locks on the house?
- My spouse wants to attend mediation to resolve our divorce. Should I go?
1. How long does it take to get a divorce in New Jersey?
It depends on the facts and circumstances of your case, as well as the county in which your case is located. The goal of the State is to finalize cases within one year from the date the complaint is filed, but there are exceptions in which matters resolve much slower or faster than that twelve-month goal.
2. Do I need to hire an attorney to handle my divorce or other family law matters?
You are not required to hire an attorney. However, you should at least have a consultation before you decide to represent yourself. Family law and divorce matters are often complex and have nuances; very little is black and white. Hiring an expert, particularly a Certified Matrimonial Attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, can make your experience easier. Consulting with and hiring an attorney in the first place may also save you time and money in the long run. Beginning the process without an attorney may have irreparable consequences and may end up making the case harder and more expensive than if you had sought counsel initially.
3. Can my spouse and I use the same attorney for our divorce?
NO, unless the attorney is the mediator and NOT an advocate for either party.
4. How much will my divorce cost?
It is impossible for any attorney to give you an exact price or quote, but after consultation, your attorney should be able quote you an initial retainer based upon the specific facts of your case. Ultimately, the costs are determined by you and your spouse (with the attorneys). If you can agree to certain terms, or at least a process, and effectively communicate, that will go a long way toward reducing expenses, but the converse is also true. If no one communicates or cooperates, it may be necessary to subpoena certain information (such as bank or credit card statements) or file motions asking the Court to grant certain relief. These are very costly and time-consuming tasks that often further polarize the parties in a divorce matter.
5. Can I force my spouse to pay for my legal fees in a divorce?
Maybe. It is possible to file a formal application and ask a court to award you legal fees or a legal/expert retainer so you can be on an equal playing field with your spouse, particularly when only one party has access to funds. This is a very fact-sensitive inquiry and a judge has wide discretion in making this determination. It is important to attempt to resolve the issue first, before filing a motion, except in truly emergent circumstances. Some judges will liquidate assets, including retirement funds, to set up a litigation fund for both parties to utilize to move forward with their case.
6. What are the requirements for filing for divorce?
There are grounds for divorce in New Jersey, which are: Irreconcilable Differences, Separation, Adultery, Desertion, Addiction, Deviant Sexual Conduct, Imprisonment, Extreme Cruelty, and Institutionalization.
In addition, you will also need information such as names, dates of birth, dates of marriage, children's names, social security numbers, and insurance information (home, auto, life, health), if known. Sometimes only one spouse has access to this information, in which case, it may be acceptable to indicate "unknown" on the forms in order to proceed.
7. Do I have to continue to live in the house with my spouse during the divorce?
It depends. This, like everything else in family law, is very fact specific. For example, can you afford to maintain two households? Does the family have a second home or friends/family that one party can stay with temporarily? Judges are generally loathe to make someone leave a marital residence, unless domestic violence exists, but there are exceptions and certain circumstances where this is possible.
8. Can I change the locks on the house if my spouse leaves, but we still own the house together?
Maybe, but this depends on the facts and circumstances of your case.
9. My spouse wants to attend mediation. Can’t we just go to court?
Getting to court is a long, difficult and expensive process. It is not as easy as simply going to court and asking a judge to resolve your matter. In some cases, you may not appear before a judge substantively for months after you file your complaint. Private mediation is voluntary, but often worthwhile if the right mediator is chosen, the necessary documentation is exchanged in advance, and both parties are acting in good faith. Make sure you have an independent consultation with an attorney before mediating so you are aware of and understand your rights.
Every case is fact-sensitive and requires knowledge of the facts, circumstances, and parties. The above are general responses and are not applicable in every case. For personalized responses, strategy development and an understanding of the issues in your case, it is necessary to schedule a consultation with an experienced matrimonial attorney.
Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters. She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015. Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.
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