Divorce

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Overview

Divorce is called “dissolution” in New Jersey. The process for getting a divorce is the same as dissolving a civil union or a domestic partnership.

Who can file?

Either partner in a marriage, civil union or domestic partnership can file for divorce in New Jersey as long as at least one member of the couple lives in the state.

If you formed a domestic partnership or a civil union in New Jersey but now live elsewhere, you might not be able to dissolve the relationship legally in your new state. In that case, you can file in the New Jersey county where the civil union or partnership took place.

Do I need a lawyer to file a divorce case?

The decision to file for divorce is a difficult one, and having to work through the legal process on your own makes it even more difficult. For this reason, the court recommends that people considering filing for divorce, or those who are responding to a divorce complaint, seek legal counsel if they are able to do so.

Legal Services of New Jersey maintains a directory of regional legal services offices.

The New Jersey Bar Association also maintains a list of county lawyer referral services that might be helpful.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court

While you have the right to represent yourself in court, you should not expect any special treatment, help, or attention from the court. You must still comply with the Rules of the Court, even if you are not familiar with them. The following is a list of some things the court staff can and cannot do for you. Please read it carefully before asking the court staff for help. 

  • We can explain and answer questions about how the court works.
  • We can tell you what the requirements are to have your case considered by the court.
  • We can give you some information from your case file.
  • We can provide you with samples of court forms that are available.
  • We can provide you with guidance on how to fill out forms.
  • We can usually answer questions about court deadlines.
  • We cannot give you legal advice. Only your lawyer can give you legal advice.
  • We cannot tell you whether or not you should bring your case to court.
  • We cannot give you an opinion about what will happen if you bring your case to court.
  • We cannot recommend a lawyer, but we can provide you with the telephone number of a local lawyer referral service.
  • We cannot talk to the judge for you about what will happen in your case.
  • We cannot let you talk to the judge outside of court.
  • We cannot change an order issued by a judge.

Divorce Forms and Instructions

You will need to include the following forms when you file for divorce or dissolution of a civil union or domestic partnership:

Where to find divorce forms and instructions:

  1. Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ)
    LSNJ has a free divorce guide that explains how to file for divorce or dissolve a civil union based on irreconcilable differences, separation, desertion, or extreme cruelty.
    LSNJ also sells a complete divorce kit, with instructions plus all of the required forms, for $25..
     
  2. Superior Court Ombudsmen
    You can get all of the required forms and instructions in your county courthouse. Contact your local court ombudsman for more information. 
    The ombudsman is a neutral staff person who answers questions, provides procedural assistance, addresses concerns from the public, and helps to guide court users through system. The ombudsman cannot give legal advice, however, as all court staff must be neutral and impartial. Learn more about the ombudsman program.
     
  3. NJ Courts Self-help Center
    The NJCourts.gov has some basic information on the divorce process and some of the forms that you will need.

Filing Your Case

File your divorce forms in the New Jersey county where you lived when you separated. If you do not live in New Jersey, file your forms in the New Jersey county where your spouse lives. See Court Rule R. 5:7-1 for more information.

If you are filing for divorce, you are the Plaintiff. Your spouse is the Defendant.

Note: You must be 18 to file a court case. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian must file the case for you.

Grounds for divorce

You must state a reason for the divorce recognized by New Jersey law (called “grounds” for divorce).

  • No-fault or irreconcilable differences: To file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences, you must meet the following requirements:
    1. You or your spouse must have lived in New Jersey for 12 consecutive months before filing for divorce;
    2. You or your spouse must have experienced irreconcilable differences for 6 months, and;
    3. The irreconcilable differences are a reason that the marriage, civil union or domestic partnership should be dissolved; and
    4. You are certain there is no way to reconcile.

There is no need to accuse the other spouse of doing anything wrong when filing based on irreconcilable differences. In fact, making accusations of adultery or other “wrongdoing” will not affect the outcome of the divorce or improve your chances of getting more child support, alimony, or other financial arrangements, such as equitable distribution.

  • Separation: To file for divorce based on separation, the couple must have been living apart for at least 18 months.
  • Extreme Cruelty: To file on the grounds of extreme cruelty requires proof of other factors. You should consult an attorney or read N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2 to see if the statute applies to your case.
  • Other grounds: Other “fault” grounds for divorce include adultery, institutionalization, and incarceration for an extended period. For more information, read N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2.

9 Steps to file a divorce case

**Note: If you cannot prove your spouse received the papers, you might not be able to proceed with your case. Contact the family division for more information.

  1. File with the court
  2. Complete the Divorce Summons Do not include personal identifiers such as social security numbers on the document filed with the court.
     
  3. Include the current address of your spouse or, for domestic partnership or civil union, your partner.
     
  4. Attach the filing fee or request a fee waiver

    $300 filing fee
    If requesting custody or parenting time, add $25 for a Parenting Workshop Fee.

    You can pay in cash or with a check or money order made out to the State of New Jersey.

  5. Check forms to make sure they are completed. Sign the forms.
     
  6. Make at least 3 copies of all documents you will submit to the court and keep one copy to court - one to keep.
     
  7. Redact, or black out, the personal identifiers on the copies you will submit to the court.
     
  8. Upload the documents into the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) system. You can pay the fee with a credit card. You can upload the fee waiver request form if needed . You also can mail the originals plus two copies of all of the documents, plus the fee, to the Family Division of the Superior Court where you or the defendant lives. Certified mail is recommended. If you mail your papers, also include a stamped, self-addressed envelope so the court can mail a copy of the filed Complaint back to you with the docket number on it.
     
  9. After you receive the Complaint with the docket number on it, you must “serve” the Summons, Complaint and other required documents on the Defendant. This means that you must prove to the court that your spouse has received the divorce papers. You must include the Complaint, the Summons, and a listing of attorney referral and legal services offices. You must serve the papers within 30 days of the date of filing, and provide proof of service to the court, in writing. See Court Rule 4:4 for more information.
    1. To have the Sheriff’s Office deliver your papers: Contact the Sheriff’s Office where you filed your case for instructions. There is a fee for this service. If the Sheriff’s Office delivers your papers, they will send proof to the court, with a copy to you.
    2. To hire a process service: You can look online or in the phone directory to find a process server who will deliver your papers for a free. You will need the complete the Acknowledgement of Service form and include the receipt from the process server and submit them to the court.

**Note: If you cannot prove your spouse received the papers, you might not be able to proceed with your case. Contact the family division for more information.

Fees and Fee Waiver

Plaintiff Fees

Filing Fee $300
Parenting Workshop Fee
(Paid for and attended by both parents if custody or visitation is sought by either parent)
$  25
There will be some additional mileage fees if you use a service to serve the papers on the defendant.

Defendant Fees

Filing Fee $175
Parenting Workshop Fee
(Paid for and attended by both parents if custody or visitation is sought by either parent)
$  25

Do you qualify to have your fee waived?

Settling Your Case

Dispute Resolution Alternatives to Conventional Litigation

You have choices about how your case is resolved. Only a judge can grant a divorce or a dissolution of a relationship. You might want to decide for yourselves how to divide your property and your debt. You also might have to figure out child support, custody and parenting time. A judge can decide those issues at trial, but there are other ways to address them. Those alternatives might be more efficient, cheaper, more private and less painful than working them out in court.

Before a case is filed

If both parties have lawyers, they can choose to work together outside of court to settle their financial or parenting issues before filing for divorce. This will help speed the divorce process. Any of the experts listed below might be consulted:

  • Certified financial planners
  • Certified public accountants
  • Licensed clinical social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Licensed professional counselors
  • Licensed marriage and family therapists
  • Psychiatrists

This collaborative process ends when one party files the divorce or dissolution case in court. Once a case is filed, the parties must find new lawyers and law firms to represent them in court.

After a case is filed

Mediation. During mediation, a neutral person meets with both parties and helps them reach an agreement. The court has a list of approved mediators to help you settle your issues. You also can choose a private mediator. Both parties can hire a lawyer to advise them of their rights during mediation. The settlement is reported to the judge. The judge then makes a final decision about whether to grant the divorce or dissolution.

Early Settlement Panel (ESP). In some divorce cases, the judge will recommend an Early Settlement Panel. If recommended, participation is mandatory. Each county has an ESP coordinator. Contact your county's coordinator for more information

Domestic Violence: The court will not require mediation if a restraining order has been filed. The victim, however, can choose to participate in mediation for financial matters even with a restraining order in place.

Arbitration: You can choose to have an arbitrator decide certain issues instead of the judge. The parties choose the arbitrator and pay their fee. They must agree in advance which issues the arbitrator will decide. They also must agree in advance to live by the arbitrator’s decision. The arbitrator will decide some of the issues. The judge will make the final decision to grant to divorce or dissolution.

Finding a Divorce Record

After a case is completed and a judgment of divorce issued, the case is closed. Records for closed divorce cases are kept in the county courthouse for a short time and then stored by the Superior Court Clerk's Office in Trenton.

Contact the  Superior Court Clerk's Office at 609-421-6100 if you have any questions.