When your spouse files for divorce, you might be surprised, upset, or concerned. You may have questions about whether it is important who filed first, and what you are supposed to do or say in response to the paperwork that you receive. Your first call should be to your attorney or to trusted advisors who can help you find the right lawyer. When you call a member of the family law team at Cohn Lifland, we will discuss the exact papers that your spouse filed, and how much time you have to make the best decisions about protecting your children and your financial situation. The most practical answer is that under New Jersey Law, you have the right to file a written response to whatever your spouse filed. Generally, you have three options:
- The simplest is filing an “Appearance” which tells the Court that you intend to participate in the process and that you do not object to the Court dissolving your marriage or your spouse obtaining a divorce from you as long as you have the right to be heard on any custody, support or property division issues that have not yet been resolved. Your attorney might recommend this option because it is efficient, and cost-effective, and does not take away any of your substantive rights.
- You could also file an “Answer,” which might be substantially the same as an Appearance except that you would respond, point by point, to everything in your spouse’s divorce papers. This gives you no more protection or rights than filing an Appearance unless there is incorrect information in your spouse’s paperwork that should be addressed for your protection.
- If you wanted to make a simultaneous and duplicative request to the court for a divorce, you could file an “Answer and a Counterclaim for Divorce.” Take this step whenever you feel strongly about asking the Court to rule that the divorce is reciprocal or if your legal grounds for divorce are different from what your spouse has alleged. If the Court ultimately grants both requests for divorce (which is usual), then the final divorce is called a “Dual Judgment of Divorce.” Filing a counterclaim lets the Court hear your case even if your spouse fails to properly present their case or wishes to withdraw their Complaint during the case. Your counterclaim would survive dismissal of their initial Complaint.
All of these options permit the Court to incorporate any agreement that you and your spouse reach. You do not waive or lose any rights to seek assistance from the Court concerning custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, or property division while you take time to discuss these options with your attorney. If you have any questions about the divorce papers that you have received or might want to file, contact the experienced lawyers (#familylawteam) at Cohn Lifland.