The 7-Step Divorce Litigation Process in New Jersey

If you are getting a divorce in the state of New Jersey there are seven steps that have to be undertaken by one or both parties before the divorce is considered complete. Each stage involves legal issues, and it is recommended that you have an attorney for all stages.

Step One— Filing the Complaint for Divorce

The first step in a New Jersey divorce involves filling out a form which is known as a complaint for divorce. This complaint formally petitions the court to grant one party a request for a divorce. The form will include the grounds for divorce. 

In New Jersey, although there are many grounds for divorce, most divorcing couples use the grounds Irreconcilable Differences, sometimes referred to as “no fault”.

Step Two—Case Management

The purpose of the Case Management Conference is to give everyone a clear understanding of what decisions must be made in the divorce, as well as the timeframes for completion.  The court assigns a deadline for the completion of discovery, which must be complied with.

Step Three—The Discovery Process

This is an opportunity for each spouse’s legal team to become familiar with the details of the marriage and gather information for the negotiations including incomes, financial assets, debt/liabilities, and real estate are exchanged.  Each spouse completes a Case Information Statement, which is a document that provides a summary of your income, expenses, assets, and debts.

Step Four—A Chance For Early Settlement

If you and your spouse have not reached a settlement, then you will have to appear before what is known as an Early Settlement Panel. You and your attorney will have to be present, and the panel will offer suggestions on how to resolve the issues that you and your attorneys could not resolve. If you and your spouse agree to the panel’s recommendations, then your divorce may be granted by a judge that day.

Step Five—Mediation

If after step four your issues are not resolved, then you will have to obtain a mediator. This person will meet with both spouses and their attorneys to try and help reach an agreeable settlement.

Step Six—An Intensive Settlement Conference

If the mediator cannot help you reach an agreement, you and your spouse and the attorneys will go back to court for a settlement conference. This is the last attempt to try and keep your divorce from going to trial by trying to help you to agree with your spouse on a settlement.

Step Seven—Trial

A divorce trial in New Jersey Family Court is the final stage in the process. If it gets this far, which is a rarity as 95% of cases in New Jersey settle before trial, a family court Judge will listen to testimony from you and your spouse, listen to testimony from experts and/or witnesses, if needed, in order to reach a decision. Once the family court Judge reaches a decision, your divorce will be finalized.