Divorce

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

Where to find 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)
  2. 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.

  3. Superior Court Ombudsmen
  4. 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.

  5. NJ Courts Self-help Center
  6. The NJCourts.gov has some basic information on the divorce process and some of the forms that you will need.

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.
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.

Filing for Divorce

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.

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

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

  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. Mail or deliver 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.
    1. If you deliver the papers, court staff will assign a docket number to your case and give you a copy of the Complaint back with the docket number on it.
    2. 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 5:4-4 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 serve the papers directly: You can deliver the papers yourself or send them using certified mail. You will need the complete the Acknowledgement of Service form and include the certified mail card and submit them to the court.
    3. 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.

Responding to a Divorce Complaint

If you have been served with a Summons and Divorce Complaint, you are the defendant. The person who filed the divorce is the plaintiff.

You have 35 days to respond to the Summons and Divorce Complaint.

If you do not respond to the court at all, the court may grant the divorce and order in favor of the Plaintiff.

You have three options in how you respond to the court. You can:

  1. File an Answer — this means you respond to, or contest, what the plaintiff has stated in the Complaint;
  2. File an Answer and Counterclaim — this means you respond to the Complaint and also state any separate grounds for divorce and/or claims you want to make against the plaintiff; or,
  3. File an Appearance — this means you are not contesting what Plaintiff has stated in the Complaint but you do want to be heard on issues of custody, parenting time (visitation), child support, equitable distribution, alimony, or other matters.

6 Steps to filing an answer in a divorce case

  1. Get the forms and instructions.
  2. Complete the Answer, Answer and Counterclaim, or Appearance Form. Complete the Certificate of Insurance and the Confidential Litigation Sheet. Do not include personal identifiers such as social security numbers on the document filed with the court.
  3. Make a copy of the forms and keep your copy in a safe place. Redact, or black out, the personal identifiers on the copies you submit to the court.
  4. Attach the filing fee of $175 or request a fee waiver.
  5. 5. Mail or deliver the originals plus two copies of all of the documents, plus the fee, to the Family Division of the Superior Court.
  6. Serve the Answer, Answer and Counterclaim, or Appearance Form on the plaintiff.

    You can deliver the papers yourself or send them using certified mail to the address the plaintiff put on the forms they filed with the court. You will need the complete the Acknowledgement of Service form and include the certified mail card 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.

Forms needed to respond to a divorce complaint

Filing Fees and Fee Waivers

Plaintiff Fees

$300     filing fee
$25     parenting workshop fee paid for and attended by both parents if custody or visitation is sought by either parent

There will be some additional mileage fees if you use a service to serve the papers on the defendant.

Defendant Fees

$175     filing fee
$25     parenting workshop fee paid for and attended by both parents if custody or visitation is sought by either parent

Do you qualify to have your fee waived?

Contested Divorces

Contested divorces are those in which the spouses disagree on one or more issues, such as:

  • allegations stated in the grounds for divorce,
  • custody,
  • parenting time (visitation),
  • child support,
  • alimony,
  • equitable distribution (splitting of assets and/or debts), or
  • other matters.

After both Plaintiff and Defendant have filed their papers with the court, court staff will schedule any necessary conferences or other court events such as:

  • Case management conferences
  • Custody and parenting time mediation
  • Parent Education Workshop
  • Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel and/or Economic Mediation
  • Discovery, which is the exchange of documents and information that the parties will use in court

The goal of these court events is to give the couple opportunities to settle as many issues between themselves as possible, rather than having the judge decide each issue. Couples are encouraged to try to develop a joint property settlement agreement if at all possible.

Court staff will advise when additional paperwork is required, such as a:

  • Case Information Statement, which has details about assets, liabilities, income, and expenses; or
  • Custody/Parenting Time Plan, for cases with children.

A contested divorce could take many months to get to the final court hearing. If the spouses have complex financial issues or bitter disputes on custody and visitation issues, a case can take even longer to resolve.

For contested divorces, it is recommended that each spouse get their own attorney in order to better understand their rights and responsibilities.

Uncontested Divorces

Uncontested divorces are those in which both spouses agree that they want to dissolve their marriage.

In most instances, the court process for uncontested divorces can be completed in a much shorter time than for contested divorces.

To file for an uncontested divorce:

  1. Plaintiff should notify the court when filing that the divorce is uncontested. All forms and the $300 filing fee are still required.
  2. Defendant should file an Appearance forms stating that the defendant does not contest the divorce, but is prepared to appear before the court on whatever issues the two spouses will be resolving in the divorce. The $175 filing fee is still required.
  3. The couple will prepare a joint property settlement agreement that includes plans for custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, and any other financial matters. The agreement must be signed by both parties and notarized. The court will accept the agreement and make it a part of the divorce order when the divorce is granted.

Modifying a Divorce Order

Filing a Motion:

If you need to change or enforce the court order in your divorce, you must file a motion with the same court that issued the court order. A motion is a written request asking the court to change something in the order or make the other party comply with the terms of the order.

Common reasons to file a motion include:

  • to increase or decrease child support payments
  • to increase or decrease alimony or spousal support payments
  • to change the custody arrangements of a minor child
  • to change the visitation/parenting time arrangements
  • to relocate children to another state
  • to emancipate a child, which ends child support obligation
  • to get reimbursement of medical expenses
  • to “enforce litigant’s rights,” (tell the court that the other party is not complying with the order and ask the court to make the party do so)

How to Ask the Court to Change or Enforce an Order in Your Case

The kit has several forms that you must fill out and file with the court.

You will also have to send a copy of everything you file to your ex-spouse.

Important Note: There are very specific time frames for selecting a motion date, for filing and for getting the motion papers to your ex-spouse—contact the family division in the county where you are filing to make sure you understand and meet these deadlines.

7 Steps to file a motion to change or enforce an order in your divorce case

  • Complete all of the forms in the kit.
  • Choose a motion date. Contact the Family Division where your divorce was granted and ask for a motion date at least one month away.
  • Make 3 copies of all of the forms, and 5 copies of the proposed order. Keep one copy for yourself in a safe place. If Probation Services monitors child support in your case, make an extra copy of all of the forms.
  • Redact, or black out, the personal identifiers on the copies you will submit to the court.
  • Attach the $50 filing fee.
  • Mail or deliver the originals plus two copies of all of the documents, plus the fee, to the Family Division of the Superior Court where your divorce was granted.
  • Mail or deliver one copy of all of the documents to your ex-spouse. They must receive the papers at least 24 days before the motion date you have selected.

Responding to a Motion:

If you have received papers stating that your ex-spouse has filed a motion with the court, you can respond by preparing and filing a Certification within the appropriate timeframe. You can use the Certification form in this packet and attach any documents that you believe will support what you state in the form.

Filing a Cross-Motion:

You can also use this packet to file a cross-motion, meaning you are asking the court to take action on your behalf, in addition to opposing whatever the other party has asked for.

You must file your Certification (and Cross-Motion if you are filing one) with the court and send or deliver a full copy to your ex-spouse no later than 15 days prior to the motion date.

If you filed a Cross-Motion as well as a response to the original motion, your ex-spouse can respond in writing to the information in your Cross-Motion no later than 8 days prior to the motion date.

Outcome of a Motion:

A motion date is not a trial. There might not be an actual court hearing on the motion date. Most motions are decided “on the papers.” The judge reviews the arguments and proofs each person has provided and decides the motion on that basis.

Both the person filing the motion and the person responding to it can request "oral argument" in their motion papers. This means that they are asking for an actual court hearing with the judge, so they can be heard in person. However, it is up to the judge to decide if this will be necessary.

Even if oral argument is granted and there is an actual hearing, a decision on the motion may not occur on that same day. In some cases, it may take weeks or longer to receive the written order stating the judge’s decision. When the motion is decided, each person will receive a copy of the signed order that states the decision on each request made in the motion.

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 Customer Service Unit at 609-421-6100 if you have any questions.

Appealing a contested divorce case

Either party can appeal a decision in a contested divorce case. You cannot file an appeal if your case was uncontested.

When to file

The appeal must be filed in the Appellate Division of Superior Court within 45 days of the court’s decision.

Do I need a lawyer to file an appeal?

You do not have to have a lawyer to appeal your case. Be aware, however, that the appeals process can be confusing. It is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court

Steps to file an appeal

  1. File a Notice of Appeal.
  2. Request a transcript of your case from the Appellate Division. You must have the official transcript in order for your appeal to be considered.
  3. Complete a Case Information Statement.

Use the How to File an Appeal self-help kit.

Filing Fees

  1. $250 must be submitted with the Notice of Appeal. This is the cost of the appeal.
  2. $300 must be submitted with to the clerk of the Appellate Division within 30 days of filing the Notice of Appeal. This will be refunded if you win your appeal. If you lose your appeal, the money can be used to pay settlement or court costs.

Do you qualify for a fee waiver?

If you received a fee waiver in your divorce case, you can attach a copy of the order and a signed letter that says your finances have not changed since the case was filed.

If you did not receive a fee waiver in your divorce case, you can submit a

If you did not receive a fee waiver in your divorce case, you can submit a request for a fee waiver with your appeal.

Mail or deliver your appeals documents to:

Appellate Division of Superior Court
Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
P.O. Box 006
Trenton NJ 08625

Send copies of your appeals document to:

  1. All parties in the case who appeared in court
  2. The local Superior Court office that handled your divorce case
  3. The judge who decided your small claims case

Keep a copy of each document for yourself.

Preparing your appeal

You will need to prepare a brief, which is a document that explains why your appeal should be granted.

Questions about your appeal?

Call the Appellate Division Clerk’s Office at 609-815-2950.

Glossary of Terms

Affidavit:   An affidavit is a notarized written statement made to the court when you file papers with the court swearing that the information contained in the filed papers is true.

Alimony:Alimony, or spousal support, is money paid by one spouse to another after a divorce to help with living expenses outside of child support.

Answer:  An answer is a document filed by a defendant in response to a complaint filed by a plaintiff.

Appeal:  An appeal is a written request asking a higher court to look at the decision of the judge and change that judge’s decision.

Arrears:  The word arrears means unpaid or overdue child support, alimony or spousal support payments.

Caption:  The caption is how the parties’ names were written in the original papers filed for your divorce. If you were the plaintiff or defendant you are still the plaintiff or defendant for all subsequent filings.

Cause of Action:  The cause of action is the grounds for the divorce such as irreconcilable differences, separation, or extreme cruelty.

Certification:  A certification is a written and signed statement made to the court when you file papers with the court, swearing that the information contained in the filed papers is true.

Child Support:Child support is money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help support their children.

Complaint:  A complaint is a document filed with the court by the plaintiff that is the start of a court case.

Cross-motion:  A cross-motion is filed by a defendant to add a new claim against the plaintiff in a court case.

Default Judgment:  The plaintiff can request a default judgment in their favor if the defendant receives the complaint and fails to respond in the time allowed.

Defendant:  The Defendant  is the person against whom a case is filed.

Discovery:  After a case is filed, but before it is heard in court, all of the parties must share with each other the documents and information they plan to introduce in court. This is called discovery.

Dissolution:Dissolution refers to the legal ending of a marriage, civil union or domestic partnership.

Exhibits:Exhibits are papers and information you provide to support what is in your motion.

File:  To file means to give the appropriate forms to the court to begin the court’s consideration of your request.

Irreconcilable differences:  This is the term used in New Jersey for a no-fault divorce. It applies to divorcing couples who have lived in New Jersey for at least 12 months before the divorce is filed. The basis of the divorce is that the couple is certain there is no way for them to reconcile.

Motion:  A motion is a written request in which you ask the court to issue an order, change an order it has already issued, enforce an order it has already issued, or ask the court to take some other action related to your case.

Order:  An order is a signed paper from the judge telling someone they must do something.

Party:  A party is a person, business or governmental agency involved in a court action.

Personal Identifier:  A Personal Identifier   is any personal information that is unique to an individual, including Social Security number, military status, driver’s license number, license plate number, insurance policy number, active bank account and credit card numbers. This information could be used to steal someone’s identity or their money. All documents filed with the court are available for public inspection. Therefore no personal identifiers should be included on documents filed with the court.

Plaintiff:  The Plaintiff  is the person who files a court case.

Pro Se:  The term Pro Se means that you are representing yourself in court without a lawyer.

Redact:  To Redact   is to remove or to hid parts of a written document.

Relief:  To ask for relief   is to ask the court for something.