The New Jersey Divorce Process
· A Complaint for Divorce is Filed
· The Complaint for Divorce is served upon your Adversary
· If you have children who are unemancipated, the Court will notify you of your required participation in a one-time Parent Education Program (PEP)
· An Adversary has 35 days from service to file a formal response (an Adversary can simply file an appearance and not contest the proceeding or file a Counter-Claim for Divorce)
· Once an Adversary files a response, they will also be notified of their required participation in the Parent Education Program.
· Once both parties have participated in the Parenting Education Program, they will receive separate notice to attend custody mediation at no charge. This is a service provided by the court system. Your attorneys do not attend.
· If the parties are unable to resolve custody issues at the mediation, the court will notify the parties and attorneys that they must attend a conference with the judge.
· If the parties are still unable to settle custody issues, the court may appoint a psychologist to perform an evaluation of the parties and children, and draft a report including an opinion as to what is in the best interests of the children.
· During the process, the lawyers will receive notice of a telephonic Case Management Conference (CMC), where the parties will agree to deadlines for different forms of discovery, including the filing of the Case Information Statement (CIS) and evaluations of assets such as homes, business, and pensions.
· Lawyers and clients will engage in the discovery process of exchanging documents and other information.
· If an issue arises during the process that cannot be resolved through negotiations, either side is permitted to file an application (a motion) to seek a court order for interim relief.
Once the discovery is completed and custody is resolved, the parties and lawyers must appear before an Early Settlement Panel (ESP), on a court designated date. During ESP, the parties will meet with two matrimonial attorneys who volunteer their time and experience to help settle your case with regard to financial issues. Custody and parenting time issues are not dealt with during ESP. The attorneys on the panel are experienced and familiar with both the judge and the process. It is their job to provide an opinion on how your case should settle based on their experience. This is an invaluable tool.
If your case does not settle that day, the parties and their lawyers must arrange for at least one session with an independent mediator to attempt settlement on the financial issues. This is called Mandatory Economic Mediation. The first two hours of this process are free. The first hour is typically used by the mediator to review the papers. The second hour the mediator will work with the parties and their attorneys to try and reach settlement. If mediation is successful and/or beneficial, but the parties are unable to reach an agreement that day, they may agree to continue mediating but will be responsible for the costs. MEM, like the ESP, will only involve financial issues.
If the case does not settle as a result of mediation, the lawyers and parties must appear in court on a designated date for Intensive Settlement Conference (ISC) with the judge.
If the case still does not settle, a trial will be scheduled.