New Jersey Divorce: Basics and Overview
This is a quick and easy guide to the basics of the uncontested divorce process in New Jersey. Learn how to file for divorce in New Jersey.
- No-fault grounds for divorce in New Jersey: When you file for a no-fault divorce (also known as “absolute divorce” in New Jersey), you don’t have to claim—or prove—that your spouse’s misconduct (such as adultery) was the reason your marriage is ending. The easiest and quickest way to be eligible for a no-fault divorce in New Jersey is simply to declare that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences that have caused the breakdown of the marriage” for at least six months, with no reasonable possibility that you’ll get back together.
New Jersey does have another legally recognized reason (or “ground”) for a no-fault divorce, but it requires that you’ve been separated from your spouse for at least 18 months. The two of you must have lived apart, in separate homes, for that entire time without interruption. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-2 (2022).)
- New Jersey’s residency requirement for divorce: If you want to get divorced in New Jersey, you or your spouse must have been a state resident for at least one year just before you file the divorce papers. If you’re filing for a fault divorce based on adultery, the only residency requirement is that one of you lived in New Jersey when the adultery happened and stayed in the state up until the filing date. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-10 (2022).)
- Requirements for uncontested divorce: Uncontested divorces are cheaper and quicker, because you can usually get through the process without hiring a lawyer, and you won’t have to go through lengthy court battles. And if you need help with all the paperwork, you can use New Jersey 3StepDivorce™.
But in order to reap the advantages of uncontested divorce, you’ll need to file for a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, and you must have a complete marital settlement agreement with your spouse. The agreement (sometimes called a “property settlement agreement”) should cover all the issues in your divorce, including the division of your property, child custody and child support (if you have minor children), and alimony.
- Timeline for uncontested divorce in New Jersey: Unlike some other states, New Jersey doesn’t have a minimum waiting period before you can get your final divorce judgment. The amount of time it takes in your case will depend on whether and when you request a divorce judgment without a hearing (more on that below), as well as the court’s schedule and the availability of a judge to review your paperwork or hold a hearing. If all goes well, you’ll usually be able to get your uncontested divorce judgment within about two months.
- Separation requirements for divorce in New Jersey? As long as you’ve filed for an uncontested, no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, New Jersey doesn’t require that you and your spouse be separated for any period of time before you can get divorced. The only situation in which you would need to be separated would be if you filed for divorce based on living separate and apart from your spouse for 18 months (as discussed above.).
- Legal terms used in New Jersey divorce cases: Divorce is also called a “dissolution of marriage.” The spouse who starts the legal process by filing the divorce papers is called the “plaintiff,” while the other spouse is the “defendant.”
- Where to file for divorce in New Jersey: New Jersey’s rules for knowing where to file your divorce papers (known as “venue” requirements) depend on where you or your spouse was living when the reason (ground) for your divorce happened. (In the law, this is referred to as when the “cause of action arose.”) In the case of an uncontested divorce based on irreconcilable differences, that would be at the end of the six-month period when the differences between you and your spouse caused a breakdown in your marriage. You must file for divorce in the New Jersey county where you lived at that time, or where your spouse lived if you were living out of state.
If both of you were living out of state at the end of the six-month period of marital breakdown, you’ll file in the county where you currently live or—if you still don’t live in New Jersey—in the county where your spouse lives. (N.J. Rules of Court, rule 5:7 (2022).)
Once you know the county where you should file the divorce papers, you can find the addresses, phone numbers, and other information for the court offices in the Family Division (or Part) of the Superior Court, Chancery Division in that county.
- Main divorce papers to file: The main forms that you must file to start the divorce process are the Complaint for Divorce/Dissolution (Irreconcilable Differences), Summons, and Proposed Final Judgment of Divorce. You’ll also need to file various separate certifications and information sheets. New Jersey 3StepDivorce™ provides you with the necessary completed forms.
- Requirements for serving a spouse with divorce papers: New Jersey requires that you serve your spouse with the divorce papers. When you and your spouse are cooperating with filing for an uncontested divorce, the easiest way to do this is to have your spouse sign an Acknowledgment of Service. That way, you can simply send the documents by regular mail and certified mail (return receipt requested).
Otherwise, you’ll have to arrange to have someone else—usually a sheriff or professional process server—hand-deliver the divorce papers to your spouse. You’ll have to file with the court the signed Acknowledgment of Service or other proof that you properly served the divorce papers. (N.J. Court Rules, rules 4:4-3, 4:4-4, 4:4-6, 5:4-1 (2022).)
- Responding to a divorce complaint in New Jersey: In New Jersey, your spouse usually has 35 days to file some kind of response after being served with the divorce complaint. (N.J. Court Rules, rule 4:6-1 (2022).) When you have an uncontested divorce, your spouse may simply file an “Appearance” form rather than a formal answer.
- New Jersey Child Support Guidelines: Like all U.S. states, New Jersey has guidelines for calculating the amount of child support that parents should pay. Whether the parents have an agreement on the amount of child support or a judge makes a decision on the issue, the level of support should not differ from what it would be under the guidelines unless the judge or the agreement explains why ordering the guideline amount would be unjust under the circumstances, after considering certain factors spelled out in New Jersey law. New Jersey 3StepDivorce™ provides the worksheets for calculating the right amount of support.
- New Jersey rules on child custody: Whether parents have agreed on custody-related issues for their children or a judge has to decide for them, New Jersey child custody laws require that the parenting plan serves the children’s best interests. (N.J. Stat. § 9:2-4a (2022).)
- New Jersey rules on property division: New Jersey uses the “equitable distribution” rule for dividing your property and debts when you get divorced. That means the judge will decide what’s fair under the circumstances of each case. This won’t necessarily result in an even 50-50 split between the spouses (as in “community property” states like Wisconsin). You and your spouse may agree on a fair way to divide your property and decide who will pay your outstanding debts.
- Parenting class requirements: In any divorce case where child custody, visitation, or child support is an issue, New Jersey law requires that both parents complete a parents’ education program before they can get their final divorce, unless a judge has found there’s a good reason to exempt them from the requirement. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-12.5 (2022).) If you’re required to take the course, the court will give you information about finding the classes (many of which are offered online).
- Financial disclosure requirements in New Jersey: If you and your spouse have a complete property settlement agreement that resolves all of the issues in your divorce, you don’t have to file and exchange detailed financial disclosures. However, if you have a contested case with any disputed issues regarding custody, child support, alimony, or property division, both you and your spouse will need to file a Family Case Information Sheet. The form requires you to provide detailed information about your employment, income, insurance, expenses, and other financial circumstances. (N.J. Rules of Court, rule 5:5-2 (2022).)
- Hearing requirements to finalize divorce in New Jersey: The New Jersey court system now has a procedure (known as “divorce on the papers”) for requesting an uncontested or default divorce judgment without having to go to a court hearing. New Jersey 3StepDivorce™ provides the forms you’ll need to make this request. Be aware that the judge might decide to require you to attend a hearing even if you’ve made this request.
- Default divorce in New Jersey: If your spouse hasn’t responded to the complaint in the time allowed (usually 35 days), you may ask the court for a default divorce based on what you stated and requested in the complaint. When you file the request to enter a default judgment, you may also ask the judge to issue a default divorce judgment without a hearing (using the “divorce on the papers” procedure discussed above).
- New Jersey laws and rules on divorce: New Jersey Statutes §§ 2A:34-2 through 2A:34-95, 9:2-1 through 9:2-12.1; New Jersey Rules of Court, rules 5:1 through 5:14. Other statutes and court rules dealing with general procedural issues may also apply in divorce cases.
- Divorce records: At some point after your divorce is final, the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county will transfer your case records to the New Jersey Superior Court Clerk’s Office for archiving. Once that has happened, you can contact the office’s Customer Service Unit to request copies of your divorce records. You can also simply request a Certificate of Divorce if you don’t need a copy of the actual divorce judgment or other records. If the records in your case are still with the county court, you’ll have to contact that court. Learn more about how to request New Jersey divorce records.