It is very easy to get married: Plunk down a few dollars for a license, pay a small fee to a judge or clergyman, and voila! You’re hitched. It is even easier to have children. But getting a divorce is difficult and can be expensive.
New Jersey divorce laws are complex. In the years I have been helping men and fathers get a divorce I have found that a lot of clients don’t really understand some of the issues before they arrive in our office that complicate matters even more. It makes sense to have some facts before walking in and saying, “I want to get a divorce!”
Here are seven things that all men and fathers considering a divorce in New Jersey need to keep in mind as they start the process.
1 – New Jersey has Fault and No-Fault Divorce. A no-fault divorce means neither side blames the other for the end of the marriage. For men and fathers, a no-fault divorce is generally much faster to resolve and is always less expensive. Even though you think “it’s all her fault!”, try setting that aside so you can focus on your goals and what you want. Keep thinking about what you want your life to be like after the divorce so you can move through the process as quickly as possible. Most of the time, an at-fault divorce does little more than cause emotional hardships, increase the cost of your divorce and prolong the time it takes to end your marriage. None of those things work in your favor. However, if you can prove your ex has an addiction problem, is abusive towards the children, or has inflicted extreme mental cruelty, it may affect the court’s decision regarding child custody matters.
2 – Second thoughts are normal. It is natural for a man or father to have second thoughts about getting a divorce. If you keep wondering if you are doing the right thing, then there may still be hope that you can reconcile with your spouse. Some men find participating in our support group helpful and you do not need to be a client to take part. Or, we can refer you to a family therapist or psychologist who might be able to work with you and your spouse to try repairing the damaged marriage.
3 – Strong emotional reactions will cost you money. Both you and your ex are paying lawyers to represent you. But if you each sit in a board room to negotiate the specifics of a divorce – property settlement, support payments, custody and visitation schedules – and your emotions flare because of what the other is saying, nothing gets settled. Yes, getting a divorce can be an emotional process but it is in your best interests to leave your emotions at the door so you can try to resolve the divorce quickly. Being wrapped up in a heated, prolonged battle will cost a lot of money.
4 – Put the children first. State law requires that family courts put the best interests of the children ahead of all other considerations. Among other things, this means it’s a very bad idea to try using your kids as a weapon in your divorce. Don’t bad mouth your wife to the children or expect them to take sides. It’s not only unhealthy for the children but it can prolong the entire divorce process because your ex is likely to try to retaliate. Judges do not take kindly when it is revealed that one parent attempted to turn their kids against the other parent.
5 – Try hard to resolve the economic relationship amicably. It is common today for both spouses to be working, and one or both of you may own a business or professional practice. You’ve likely acquired assets during the marriage from cars and the marital home with its furniture and other possessions to, often, a vacation home, collectables and art. You also have debts: A mortgage, car loans, lines of credit, charge cards. All of these must be divided equitably. If you do not work these issues out on your own, the court will do it for you – and nobody is ever happy when a judge gets involved in dividing assets and liabilities.
6 – Mothers are not automatically named the custodial parent. Many men and fathers getting a divorce in New Jersey want to be named the custodial parent for the couple’s children. In the past, this was hard to do as a judge’s normal predilection is to award custody to the mother. But judges are starting to pay attention to the desire of a father to have custody of the couple’s children. Consider whether you want to have sole custody, joint custody, co-parenting to simply visitation rights with your children.
7 – Consider the value of mediation and arbitration. Not all divorces need the court to be resolved and finalized. This is an ideal approach if you and your wife are close to settling the division of property and debts, or have minor differences over custody issues. Mediation and binding arbitration can avoid court altogether. They will greatly speed the process along with reducing the cost.
If you or a man or father you know is considering a divorce, feel free to call me or one of our family law attorneys for men and fathers in New Jersey who can walk you through the process and answer your questions. Reach us at either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.