Divorce can be stressful and confusing. Most divorces are resolved without the need for a trial. Those couples choose to meet with each other alone or with their attorneys or with a neutral third party (mediator) to discuss and resolve their divorce-related issues. Although each case and the complexity of the issues are different, if you and your spouse have settled all your issues and memorialized them in a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), below is a brief overview of what to do next.
If you sign an agreement before anyone has opened a case in Court, then to start the divorce process, a Complaint must be filed with the Court. The Complaint will include the grounds for divorce (usually irreconcilable differences), information about you, your spouse, and the marriage and, a request that the terms of the MSA be enforced. The spouse who files is called the “plaintiff.” After the courthouse staff processes your filing, the other spouse called the “defendant” must be either be personally served with the Summons and Complaint or sign a document to acknowledge receipt via mail, email or less formal delivery than official service by a Sheriff or other process server.
Under New Jersey law, the spouse who receives the divorce complaint must respond within 35 days if that spouse wants to be heard as to any issues. The defendant will have three options for filing a response to the Complaint: an Appearance to seek recognition and enforcement of the MSA; an Answer; or an Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce. Alternatively, if the spouse chooses not to file a response, a separate default proceeding will apply.
After the defendant has filed a written response the courthouse staff will then schedule what is called an uncontested divorce hearing. Prior to the hearing a Judgment of Divorce should be prepared and submitted to the court. Be prepared for the hearing. You must provide to the Judge a copy of the MSA and ask the Court to enter the agreement into evidence. The Judge or your counsel will want you to confirm that you fully understand the agreement that you entered into it voluntarily and that you feel it is fair and equitable. Thereafter, the Judge will put the findings on the record and execute a Judgment of Divorce.
The divorce process can be a long and confusing one. If you are contemplating a divorce, consider contacting the experienced divorce lawyers at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP.