How to Begin
Are you thinking about filing for divorce? Has your spouse just informed you that he or she has filed? In either case, you are probably filled with anxiety and uncertainty. What lies ahead can seem overwhelming, but understanding the process and the issues involved in the dissolution of a marriage can go a long way towards alleviating some of your apprehensions.Contested and Uncontested Divorce in New Jersey
If you and your spouse agree on all of the most important matters, then an uncontested divorce may be possible. These issues include child support and parenting arrangements; spousal support, better known as alimony; and distribution of marital property.
Even if you and your spouse get along well enough to communicate well with one another amicably and agree on all the important matters, it is still a good idea to have a qualified New Jersey divorce attorney draft or review the document to ensure that your rights are protected and that all issues are properly addressed.
Do not react hastily. Remember, what you do now can affect the outcome of your divorce and, in turn, the rest of your life.
As you think about what you want to do, numerous questions will flow through your mind. Some of those questions will involve the process itself.Questions About the Divorce Process
- How much does it cost to file for divorce in New Jersey?
- What are the requirements for filing for divorce in the state?
- How long do you have to be separated to get a divorce in New Jersey?
- Is there legal separation in New Jersey?
Other questions—even more overwhelming—are those that have to do with the impending changes in your lifestyle and in the lives of your children.Questions About the Impending Changes in Your Life
- How can I protect my children?
- Who will get physical custody of our children?
- What kind of parenting arrangement will we make?
- Where will I live?
- Can I keep the house?
- Should I keep the house?
- How will our marital assets be divided?
- Will I receive alimony and/or child support?
- Will I have to pay alimony and/or child support?
- What will happen to my retirement account?
- How will divorce affect may taxes?
Your New Jersey divorce lawyer will discuss the above questions and the many others that you will have as you proceed. To prepare for what lies ahead, we will discuss some of these issues now, step by step.Step #1: Are You Eligible to File for Divorce in New Jersey?
There are two requirements for filing in the state of New Jersey. The first step is to see whether or not you meet those requirements.
- You or your spouse must have been a resident of New Jersey for at least one year. If you are filing on the grounds of adultery, this requirement is waived.
- You must select a ground for divorce.
There are two basic types of grounds for divorce: fault and no fault. A no-fault divorce is usually less costly because you don’t have the burden of proving your spouse’s bad conduct.
There are two no-fault grounds. The most commonly cited one is “irreconcilable differences.” When you use this ground, you are stating that there is little to no hope that you and your spouse will be able to work out your problems and that the causes that led to your decision to divorce will likely remain.
The second no-fault ground is separation. If you and your spouse reside in separate residences for a period of eighteen months, you can file on this ground.
There are several fault grounds. The most commonly used are abandonment, mental and/or physical cruelty, adultery, and drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.Step #2: What are Your Objectives?
Before you begin the process in earnest, it is a good idea to reflect upon the outcomes you wish to achieve.New Jersey Child Custody and Parenting Plans
If you have children, then their well-being is bound to be one of your primary concerns. One of the most important agreements you and you spouse will have to negotiate is a child custody and parenting plan you that meets the needs of you and your spouse and, above all, is in the best interests of your children. You will want to devise a plan that will allow both parents the opportunity to maintain meaningful relationships with the children.
There are two basic types of child custody: legal custody and residential custody.Legal Custody
Legal custody covers educational, medical, and religious decisions. Unless your spouse is an unfit parent or is physically or mentally unable to make these decisions, you will probably share legal custody of your children. New Jersey family courts believe that in most cases it is best for the child when both parents take part in the decision-making process concerning these important issues.Residential Custody
Residential custody, often referred to as physical custody, has many variations; they range from sole custody to a 50/50 shared-custody arrangement.
In order to make an informed decision, it is important to understand the different types of child custody arrangements. Your divorce and family law attorney will explain the various possibilities and will help you determine which best suits your needs.Child Support
Family law courts in New Jersey must base their decisions regarding child support on the concept that all children have the right to both the financial and the emotional support of both parents. It is important to keep in mind that your child is receiving the support, not you or your spouse.Divorce Court Guidelines
There is a standard set of guidelines that a court must follow to determine the amount of support the non-custodial parent will provide. These are the 3 most important concerns:
- the income and expenses of each parent,
- the amount of parenting time each spends with the child, and
- the basic costs of caring for the child.
Spousal support, more commonly known as alimony, is the money paid to a former or about-to-be former spouse while a divorce is in process or after a final divorce order has been issued.
The Alimony Reform Bill of 2014 brought about some important revisions in the law. It is important that you select a divorce and family law attorney who keeps up to date with these and other changes. Because the duration of your marriage is so important in determining the length of time you will receive or pay alimony, it is important to discuss with your attorney whether you should file immediately or whether you are better off waiting a period of time.Distribution of Marital Property
One of the primary causes of conflict during a divorce is the distribution of marital property. In other words, the distribution must be equitable, or fair, but it does not have to be equal.
It is very important that you understand the difference between separate property and marital property. In general, property that you owned before you were married or after you or your spouse filed for divorce is separate property. Property bought while you were married and before either of you filed for divorce is marital property. However, there are a few exceptions.
In addition to property bought before the marriage or after the filing for divorce, there are two types of property that are excluded from equitable distribution:
- gifts intended for one spouse only that were not given by the other spouse and
- an inheritance specifically left to one spouse.
Equitable distribution of marital property can be complicated, especially in a high-asset divorce. A New Jersey divorce lawyer with expertise in this area can help you understand your best options and the possible consequences of your decisions.
By law, New Jersey family courts must consider a specific set of standards to help them determine if alimony is necessary and the amount of the alimony. These are among the most important factors:
- how long the marriage lasted;
- the age and health of each;
- income or property owned by each before the marriage;
- the standard of living established during the marriage;
- property clauses in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements;
- the present income and the earning potential of each spouse;
- whether or not either contributed to the other’s education and/or earning ability;
- one spouse’s contributions as homemaker;
- tax consequences of the alimony payment;
- present value of property;
- the benefits to the child if the custodial parent stays in the family home;
- each spouse’s debts and liabilities;
- the need for a trust to meet future educational and medical needs;
- whether or not one spouse deferred career goals to benefit the marriage; and
- any other factor deemed important by the court.
You will want to discuss these and many other issues with your attorney, which takes us to Step #3.Step #3: Choosing the Right New Jersey Divorce Attorney
Selecting the right lawyer to represent you during this trying time is crucial. It is so important that you choose someone who understands what you are going through and who has the patience to guide you step by step through the process.
When making your selection, look for someone who meets these basic criteria. Look for someone who…
- is accessible 24/7;
- shows compassion;
- is experienced in both negotiation and litigation; and
- offers a valuable initial consultation.
Above all, look for someone who will put your interests first!
Remember, although you want someone who is a skilled litigator in case the need for litigation arises, it is best to avoid an attorney who seems to favor litigation when negotiation or mediation would be in your best interests.Step #4: Initial Consultation
Once you have selected an attorney, it is time to take the next step and schedule your initial consultation.
This will be a short meeting. Expect the attorney to ask you several questions so that he or she can provide the best advice possible. The more information you provide, the better equipped the lawyer will be to advise you.
You will be asked to provide basic information, such as the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and social-security numbers of the parties involved. Other questions will pertain to your marriage, including the place and date of your marriage and whether it was a civil or religious ceremony. Your lawyer will also ask if either you or your spouse was previously married and if either has children outside of your marriage.
The lawyer may also explain some of the things you wondered about early on: How much does it cost to file for divorce in New Jersey? Where and how do you file? Are you eligible to for divorce in New Jersey? Is separation necessary?
In order to get the most out of your consultation, you should come prepared, not only with answers to the attorney’s questions, but also with questions of your own—questions that likely have been on your mind since you first started to contemplate the possibility of divorce.
The next step, Step #5, will be to gather the information your attorney will eventually need. Although it is not necessary to have all these documents at your initial consultation, the more information you give your prospective divorce lawyer, the better. Reviewing the documents you provide will help the attorney evaluate your case and will enable him or her to advise you as to the best way to proceed.Step #5: Gather Your Documents
Either before or shortly after your consultation, you will be asked to gather all pertinent financial and legal information. These are some of the documents and statements you will need:
- savings accounts;
- retirement accounts;
- mortgage and other loan balances;
- credit cards;
- pay stubs;
- tax returns;
- court orders;
- prenuptial agreements; and
- post-nuptial agreements.
Divorce is stressful, but the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Aretsky Law Group, P.C., are dedicated to guiding you through the difficult process with as little anxiety as possible. We will be with you every step of the way to ensure that your rights are protected and your needs met.
If you have decided to end your marriage, it is crucial that you obtain the assistance of a qualified New Jersey divorce attorney. At Aretsky Law Group, P.C., our highly respected lawyers have the knowledge and understanding of New Jersey law needed to obtain the favorable outcomes you desire and deserve.
Call us at 800-537-4154 to schedule an initial consultation. We are available to take your call 24/7.