Step-by-Step Guide to How to Begin a Divorce in NJ

Learn from one of the top divorce attorneys in NJ how to begin a divorce proceeding and how to follow through with it, in four easily-understandable steps. If you are looking for a starting point and a step-by-step guide to the planning, filing, and legal procedure of divorce, read on for this guide by Katherine Wagner, Esq., one of the most experienced and best divorce lawyers in NJ.

Step One – Consider What You Want Your Future to Look Like

This initial planning period is essential. Divorce has so many implications both for families and the individuals in those families. It will affect where you live, your finances, your standard of living, your familial relationships, and your schedule, among other things. You want to have a clear picture of what you want your family’s lifestyle to look like post-divorce before you file anything with the New Jersey Family Court.

Child Custody in New Jersey

New Jersey has two types of child custody, legal and physical.  Just like it sounds, legal custody is the responsibility and right to make decisions for the child, and physical custody is with the parent where the child lives.

Married couples naturally have and share joint legal and physical custody of their children. When parents divorce, they must decide, or have the court decide for them, who will be responsible for making decisions for their children and where their children will live.

If the divorcing couple can work together as a team to parent their children despite any acrimony arising from the divorce, then custody can be shared. If the relationship is acrimonious then it might be up to the Family Law Judge to determine the custody arrangement, and the judge will make his or her decision based on what is in the best interests of the children.

Child Support in NJ and Alimony in NJ

These are the most frequently-contested issues in divorce. Children and the custodial parent are entitled to the same standard of living after divorce as that which they enjoyed prior to divorce. This is a difficult standard to meet, because even if both parents are working, now two households must be maintained.

The court will use the Child Support Guidelines as a starting point in determining whether and how much child support is warranted. But first the court will determine whether alimony is appropriate. The goal of alimony is the same as child support – the supported spouse should be able to enjoy a comparable standard of living after divorce – but recent changes to NJ Alimony laws have virtually eliminated “permanent” alimony, and now alimony is calculated based on the length of the marriage, the relative education levels of the parents, whether one parent worked to support the other while he or she was attending school, how long the supported spouse was unemployed or underemployed while raising a family, and the supported spouse’s employability and work history.

Property Settlement Agreement in New Jersey

New Jersey is an “equitable distribution” state, meaning, joint property is “equitably” or fairly distributed rather than equally distributed. How jointly-owned property is divided is also frequently contested and if you are attached to certain property, you must convey that to your attorney. Also, your attorney can advise you as to what you are entitled to – this can include the marital home and portions of pensions and other accounts.

Step Two – Select the NJ Divorce Lawyer Who is Right for You

Experienced New Jersey Divorce Lawyer

The first and foremost thing is that you select a divorce attorney in NJ who has the experience, and not just any experience – you want an attorney who practices in the court in which you will file your divorce complaint.

New Jersey Divorce Attorney with a Great Reputation and Satisfied Clients

These days all you have to do is google an attorney’s name and you can get their website and client reviews. How long has the attorney been practicing?  Does the lawyer limit his or her practice to family law only, or is the lawyer more of a generalist?

Somerset County New Jersey Divorce Lawyer

You will probably want to retain a divorce lawyer in NJ who is relatively close to you and who, more importantly, practices in the county in which you live and will file your divorce. For example, Katherine Wagner, Esq. has an office in Somerset County, NJ but also appears in Middlesex County t, Morris County, and Hunterdon County.

Most NJ divorce lawyers practice in several counties, so be sure to select one that has experience in the Family Court of the county in which you live. Once you’ve selected your attorney, contact him or her to schedule your consultation.

Step Three – Gather Your Documents and Information

In the course of your consultation, your NJ divorce lawyer will explain that you must gather and submit certain documents, including:

  • Most recent Federal and State tax returns  if filing jointly or individually;
  • Paystubs for both you and your spouse, if you both work;
  • Bank statements for all accounts, both joint and individual;
  • Statements for any investment accounts and pensions held jointly or by either spouse.

Your attorney will also ask you to make a list of your monthly expenses, and a list of your joint assets. If you have joint debt, such as a mortgage or car loan, or credit cards, your attorney will want to know about those, as well..

It is crucial that this information be accurate and complete, because it will dictate how marital property will be divided and whether child support and/or alimony are appropriate, and in what amount.

Step Four – Work as a Team with Your NJ Divorce Attorney to File and Complete Your Divorce

This is by far the most important thing you can do to ensure that your divorce goes as smoothly and quickly as possible and that your goals are realized to the utmost extent. How to best work as a team with your divorce lawyer? Prompt communication is the key. Whether your preferred method of communication is telephone or email, be sure to respond to your attorney’s requests for information or documentation punctually – there are hard-and-fast court deadlines that your attorney must adhere to and he or she will need your help with that.

If at any point you are dissatisfied with how your divorce is proceeding, talk with your attorney about it.  He or she will be able to explain where you are in the process and why things are going the way they are going. In a divorce where there are hotly-contested issues, things can drag on for much longer than if the parties agree on issues like support and property distribution. Your attorney will be able to advise you as to what can be done to make sure your divorce moves along and you get your final judgment of divorce.

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