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3 Steps Needed to Initiate a Divorce Before Proceedings Can Begin

divorce proceedings

Divorce is complicated, filled with emotions, and a time in a person’s life they often try to forget. Marriage is the easy part, but divorce needs to follow stringent NJ divorce laws, or the laws of your respective state.

divorce proceedingsKnowing how to get divorced isn’t something they teach you when you get married – it’s left to you to figure out on your own.

The good news is that New Jersey divorce rates are the lowest in the country, so residents are less likely to get divorced when they marry in the state. There are numerous factors that go into the lower divorce rate, such as age and education level, but there are still 9% of adults in the state that are divorced.

If you’re on the brink of divorce, it’s important to know what steps to follow to get your divorce underway.

1.     Filing and Serving a Divorce Petition

A legal document called a “divorce/dissolution petition” must be filed at a local courthouse by the spouse initiating the divorce. You or your husband can file for divorce, and both of you do not need to be present when filing – just one person.

In some states, this may also be called a “complaint.”

The filing with the court initiates the divorce process. This legal necessity will state that the petitioner, or the person filing the petition, desires to get divorced. These legal papers will need to be “served” to the spouse that did not file the petition.

When filing a petition, you’ll need to fill in a myriad of information:

  • Name and address of spouses
  • Date and location of marriage
  • Identification of any children resulting from the marriage
  • Grounds for divorce
  • Acknowledgement of where the spouses lived and for how long

Temporary orders may also be put in place by the courts. The orders will be in place for financial issues and family matters that will need to be altered during the time of the divorce. This may include:

  • Custody conditions
  • Visitation schedules
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Financial concerns

Where is the petition filed?

New Jersey law dictates that you’re required to file for divorce in the county where the cause of the divorce happened. For example, if your spouse abandoned you in Bergen County and has since moved to Monmouth County, you would file in the county where you last lived during the time of desertion (if you’re the deserted spouse).

2.     Answering a Divorce Petition

The petitioner will have his or her lawyer serve the petition to the other spouse. This process must occur in accordance to NJ state laws so that the petition can be considered “legally filed.” The person that is served the petition is called the “respondent” or “defendant.”

Petitions must be answered promptly and within the allotted timeframe. Responses must contain an “answer.”

Upon receiving a divorce petition, it’s pertinent to see a divorce lawyer in NJ to represent you. A New Jersey divorce lawyer will be well-versed in the state’s divorce laws, and will be better prepared to handle the petition.

In the event that an answer is not given within the allotted time, you’ll lose your right to argue on:

  • Child custody
  • Property division

The answer to the petition must be concise and answer:

  • Your position on the petition (agreement / disagreement)
  • Positions for requests for:
    • Support
    • Child custody
    • Property division
  • State proposals in the petition

For example, if your spouse filed for divorce and is demanding full custody of your children which you oppose, your answer should state your disagreement to the custody demand and a proposal on your end.

It’s important to know as the respondent that you have the same rights in a divorce as the petitioner.

Failure to answer a served divorce petition will result in a default. If a default occurs, the courts will assume that you agree to the petition and the terms within the petition. If you want to argue any portion of the petition, you would lose your right to do so in the event of a default.

A person that is in default may ask the court to remove the default. This will allow for a spouse to content portions of the divorce filing. Sound legal reasons will need to be given if a default is to be set aside.

3.     Settlement Agreement and Court Approval

Divorces can get ugly, and if they do, a settlement outside of court proceedings may not be a viable option. Spouses that can agree on important issues in a civil manner can avoid trials and enter into settlement agreements that need to be approved by the court.

This is the ideal scenario for couples that aim to get their divorce proceedings over with as quickly as possible.

Most divorces don’t go to trial because they’re able to reach an agreement before trial is necessary. This can occur with or without mediation or alternate dispute resolutions.

Partial Settlement

A partial settlement occurs when a couple can agree on some issues and not others. This may be an agreement on asset division and opposition when it comes to child custody issues, or a variety of other issue combinations.

The partial settlement will result in:

  • Partial settlement matters being reviewed and approved by the court
  • Matters not agreed upon in the settlement going to the court for resolution

When a partial settlement is submitted, this doesn’t allow for full control over the divorce proceedings. It’s often better to come to a full settlement agreement.

A full settlement will cover all of the matters involved in the divorce and resolutions both couples have agreed on.

But there is some oversight on the part of the courts. Finalization occurs in the settlement agreement when all of the details have been written out and submitted to the court. The settlement will be given to the judge at the court where the divorce petition was filed. The judge will normally hold an informal hearing where some questions will be asked to both spouses.

Question will be asked to determine if both spouses agree to the settlement without pressure from the other spouse.

The judge has a right to turn down a settlement if he or she does not deem the settlement to be fairly negotiated, or if the settlement favors one spouse over the other. As long as the settlement is fair, it is highly likely to be approved by the judge.

If one or more parts of the agreement are deemed unfair, the judge may order that these areas be negotiated further before granting approval of the settlement.

The Micklin Law Group, LLC is a New Jersey law firm focusing on family law for men and fathers. Attorney Brad Micklin was recently named to The National Advocates list of Top 100 attorneys from each state. Brad has experience working with high asset divorce. You can read more on this topic by visiting our divorce blog. To set up a consultation, call 973-562-0100.

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