Within the next few months, New Jersey Courts will reopen their doors for a limited number of cases. Does that mean that you should plan to drive to your local courthouse for your final divorce after you have signed marital settlement agreement? Probably not. Most settled divorce cases will be concluded in one of two ways, without requiring you to physically appear in the courtroom.
- Uncontested Hearing: Mimicking the more traditional date at the courthouse, some Judges invite you to their virtual courtroom, on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. On the assigned date, you and your attorney, as well as your spouse and their attorney, sign into the recorded videoconference. You testify about the legal grounds for divorce and the various reasons why the Court should accept your written settlement agreement as a full and final resolution of all the issues between you and your spouse, including child custody, child support, alimony, and property division. Your spouse gives similar testimony and the Judge recites the reasons why you may divorce under New Jersey law and why your request to incorporate your agreement shall be granted. At the end, you click “leave meeting” and wait until the Court sends a “Final Judgment of Divorce” to your attorney, who then sends it to you, which typically occurs within a few days.
- On the Papers: In June 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis continued, our Courts formalized a different process for entering divorce judgments in settled cases without requiring a personal appearance, even via videoconference. Informally, we call this "Divorce on the Papers." In specific circumstances, all New Jersey judges permit requests for a divorce without a formal appearance before the court. This applies also to annulments, the dissolution of civil unions, and the dissolution of domestic partnerships.
You may use this streamlined process if you are only asking the court to terminate the marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership with no additional request for relief, or if you are asking the court to terminate the marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership and you have a signed a marital settlement agreement or existing final court order that resolves all of the issues between you and your spouse (such as child custody, child support, alimony and distribution of your assets and liabilities). The process requires you to sign a Certification, swearing or affirming that you have legal grounds for divorce in New Jersey. If you signed a settlement agreement, your Certification includes an acknowledgment that each party understands the rights being preserved, and the rights being waived, by entering into the settlement agreement. You and your attorney will prepare this Certification together. If you have any questions or concerns about your rights or obligations (or your spouse’s rights and obligations) based upon your agreement, be sure to ask your attorneys. Your spouse signs a similar Certification. After the Court receives your settlement agreement and your Certification, you wait until the Court sends a “Final Judgment of Divorce” to your attorney, just like you would if you had your divorce heard in a videoconference.
Divorce “on the papers” may not be right for every situation. A judge may still decide to have the proceedings scheduled to be heard remotely using telephonic or video technology so talk to your attorney about the reasons why you might, or might not, want to finalize your divorce with a videoconference or by written submissions until we can take you back to court in person. The family law team at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf, LLP finalizes divorces in both ways. Contact us with your questions, so you can decide the best way to settle and finalize your divorce.