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Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey

NJ Grounds for Divorce

Filing a complaint for divorce is the first step towards legally separating from your spouse in New Jersey. State guidelines require persons seeking a divorce from their spouse to state a reason they wish to leave their spouse. There are nine specific grounds to request a divorce in New Jersey.

If you are considering a divorce and want to speak with a family law attorney, call the law office of Katherine K. Wager at 908-526-0099 to request a consultation.

New Jersey Divorce – No-fault

On January 20, 2007, Governor Corzine amended New Jersey’s statute to allow for a no fault divorce. Before this, spouses had to plead an affirmative cause of action for divorce.  The 2007 amendments to New Jersey’s divorce laws mean spouses can immediately separate without making public accusations that hurt the reputation of the other spouse. This reduces the number of contested divorces, and allows couples who have simply grown apart to retain a level of civility as they formally part their affairs.

Legal Reasons for Divorce in NJ

  • Irreconcilable Differences:

This divorce complaint is for couples who agree there is no hope of saving their marriage. When filing this complaint, the divorcee must attest that their marriage has suffered for at least six months, and that they see no hope of things getting better. Unless the other spouse counters this divorce complaint with an accusation of abuse another of the reasons listed below, the divorce can begin on a civil footing instead of an adversarial one.

  • Separation

New Jersey lacks a legal separation process. This complaint alleges that the couple has lived separately for over 18 months. What exactly separated means is open to interpretation, but at the very minimum, spouses must have ceased cohabiting for a year and a half to cite this as grounds for divorce.

  • Adultery:

If your spouse has cheated on you with another, you have strong grounds for a divorce. It’s easy enough to make an accusation, but this divorce claim will require some proof. In the old days, you practically needed to hire a private investigator or a have an errant love letter in hand to prove adultery. With email, text messages, and social media, it has become much harder to hide an affair.

  • Desertion

New Jersey permits a couple to divorce if they have not cohabitated for more than twelve months. The actual statue says desertion as grounds for divorce “may be established by satisfactory proof that the parties have ceased to cohabit as man and wife”. This gendered language is an artifact of pre-marriage equality legislation, but the same standard applies to same-sex couples who no longer cohabitate.

  • Addiction

If your spouse is addicted to drugs and alcohol, it can be an unbearable strain on your relationship or finances. If you can prove the addiction has lasted more than a year and is harming your relationship, this is a reasonable grounds for divorce. Narcotics and alcohol addiction are specifically named addictions in the statutes governing divorce. If your spouse has another addiction which is ruining the relationship, should consult with a divorce attorney to see if this counts as grounds for divorce.

  • Deviant Sexual Conduct

This divorce complaint is loosely defined as “conduct voluntarily performed by the defendant without the consent of the plaintiff”. New Jersey criminalized marital rape in the 1990s, and this may be a more appropriate claim than extreme cruelty if filing for divorce as a result.   

  • Imprisonment

If a spouse goes to jail for more than 18 months after they’ve been married, New Jersey allows the other spouse to request a divorce. This reason for divorce cannot be claimed if the spouse was only a convict before they were married. This grounds can even be claimed after the convict is released, as long as the couple did not resume cohabitation.

  • Extreme Cruelty

Cruel behavior which makes it unreasonable to continue to cohabitate with a spouse is grounds for divorce in New Jersey. Physical abuse is not the only cruelty that can dissolve a marriage.  New Jersey is a liberal state with regards to domestic violence victims, and emotional cruelty is also recognized as grounds to divorce. Alongside the divorce complaint, it is advisable to file for an order of protection at the same time to prevent further abuse.

  • Institutionalization

If one spouse has been committed to an institution for mental illness, the other spouse may file for divorce. To prevent divorces actions over minor mental health crisis, this can only be invoked of the other spouse has been institutionalized for a period of more than two years. Those years must start after the date of marriage. Discovering your spouse concealed a history of mental illness is not itself grounds for divorce.

What role does fault play in a divorce?

When it comes to dividing marital property, New Jersey is an equitable distribution state. Property is not evenly split between a divorcing couple. Instead, the court decides who gets what based on a loosely defined concept of equity.

If a couple divorces with no fault, the courts are will tend towards a distribution that doesn’t favor either party. In at-fault divorces, especially in cases of abuse, the court can heavily sanction the spouse at fault through property distribution and alimony,

If the spouses have children, certain grounds for divorce will also impact child custody. Most judges would never let children stay in the sole custody of an alcoholic, and an abusive spouse may even lose visitation with their child.

Claiming any grounds besides irreconcilable differences will trigger an adversarial process where your attorney will need to prove the other spouse’s guilt in a courtroom.  

Divorce in New Jersey without a Lawyer

Choosing the right grounds for divorce is one of the most important decisions of a divorce, and will shape the entire process. While you can of course get divorced in New Jersey without a lawyer, it is important not to make this decision alone. By consulting with a divorce attorney, you can explore your options and decide which divorce grounds are best for your situation. If the divorce becomes contested, that same lawyer can fight for an equitable result.

Divorce is a turbulent time, but you don’t have to carry the burden alone. Retaining a lawyer throughout the divorce will provide you with a clear-headed legal advocate in a chaotic, emotionally charged process.

If you are considering a divorce and want to speak with a family law attorney, call the law office of Katherine K. Wager at 908-526-0099 to request a consultation.

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