Frequently Asked Questions
- The process
- Mechanics and chronology
- Separation agreements
- Interim coercive and emergency relief
- Responsibility of attorney and client
- Contracting law firm
Marriage, divorce and related matters are governed by state law. The New Jersey legislature established grounds for divorce by statute and can change these grounds. Many other states provide for divorce on grounds of "incompatability," "irreconcilable conflict" or "breakdown of marriage." Many others still require that there be alleged and provided an act of "fault" or that the parties have lived separate for a certain length of time. In the State of New Jersey, a Complaint for Divorce must allege one of the following grounds, and without one of these the Court is not authorized to grant a divorce:
- Extreme cruelty
- No-fault separation (living separate and apart for 18 months in different homes)
- Habitual drug addiction
- Habitual drunkenness
- Institutionalization for mental illness
- Deviant sexual conduct
Whatever ground for divorce a party relies on, it will have to be proved. The exact type and amount of evidence necessary to prove a certain ground is established by prior cases, which your lawyer makes his or her business to know. In this state, there must, at some point, be a hearing at which it is possible that at least one witness besides yourself will have to testify about the allegations.
You will be asked to provide your lawyer with certain relevant information on a confidential questionnaire from which we will get the necessary facts for preparing and filing legal documents, a complaint if you are suing or an answer and/or counterclaim if you have been sued, with the Court.
Once a divorce petition is filed or answered, it is generally at least two years before the Court hears the case as a contested trial. Since each individual case may vary, this period could be longer especially in the event of a contested divorce, complex property settlement, or disagreement over custody or support money.
After the initial "complaint" has been filed and served on the other party, if the other party intends to answer and/or file a counterclaim, he or she must do so within 35 days. Your spouse may accept service at the clerk's office to expedite the proceeding and avoid being served at work or home, or have an attorney accept service. After this period has gone by, and an Early Settlement Panel meeting has occurred, a hearing can be scheduled. After the hearing, it takes a number of weeks for the final decree to be signed by the Judge and to receive a final copy from the Court.
Our law firm will expeditiously handle your case and answer for your legal responsibilities. If your desires or circumstances change, we ,of course, cannot answer for any extra delay that this may cause. We represent you and stand ready to advise you and to do what you instruct us to do, as long as it is within reason. We are always pleased to hear any good news of reconciliation, and in the event that you decide at any time to withdraw from any litigation which is before the Court or in the process of being prepared, please notify us at once so that we can keep the legal process from going any further. Otherwise, we will prepare documents which you must read and sign for filing with the Court and then we will notify you of the trial date as soon as we know it usually several weeks beforehand.
Many of the matters incidental to a divorce can be more expeditiously disposed of if they are settled between the parties and not contested in court. The matters that are agreed on can be presented to the Court in a contract signed by husband and wife, called a Property Settlement and Support Agreement. It can deal with property division, support money, custody and visitation, insurance and many other subjects. If the Court accepts the agreement, it will adopt it as part of the final divorce decree and give the agreement the strength of a court order, enforceable by contempt proceedings. For billing purposes, a divorce is not considered "uncontested" if the agreement is arrived at after substantial attorney negotiations.
Property matters: Property ownership and division of assets of a marriage are usually decided at the final hearing. If the respective parties to a divorce can agree on division of properties, then this may be incorporated into a property settlement to be presented to the Court for incorporation in the divorce judgment.
Support of wife and children: While a case is pending, a husband (and in some cases, a wife), is liable for the support of a spouse and/or certain children. If the parties cannot agree upon an amount, then the Court will determine this amount. The support amount is based upon earnings of the respective spouses and needs of the support recipient. A support order will likely be part of the final divorce decree.
Child custody: If child custody and visitation rights cannot be agreed upon, then the Court will establish them.
Woman's name: A married woman's name can be changed by the Court in the divorce decree, and she should specifically ask for this now if she desires it.
It is possible to obtain immediate financial support from a spouse and an immediate temporary custody order from the Court as soon as a divorce complaint is filed. In an appropriate case, one party can be temporarily barred from certain premises or put under a Court order to keep her/him from attacking or threatening the other or removing the children. If you think you will need such special relief, please mention it to your counsel immediately.
You, as the client of our law firm, are entitled to expect us to preserve your confidential communications and to prosecute your case to the best of our professional ability. The facts of your case will be the chief determinant and the outcome will be in the sole discretion of the Court, subject to appeal if necessary. You are responsible for keeping us informed as to all facts.
Frequently, legal aspects of a domestic proceeding closely involve other family members and third parties. After you have deposited an amount of money with us as a retainer, you will be regarded as having established an attorney-client relationship with us. Once this relationship exists, you will not be asked to relay specific settlement proposals to an estranged spouse. This creates ethical difficulties for the lawyer under the Code of Professional Responsibility because it involves bypassing the other party's lawyer. This is regarded as taking advantage of the other party. For the same reason, you cannot expect us to talk directly to your spouse.
As the client, your first major responsibility will be to work out the course of the continuing personal relationship with your spouse and, as the case may be, your children. This does not mean that we will not be available to discuss the legal aspects of day-to-day problems, but our fees are based on time spent on a case (including telephone conversations) and there is no need for you to increase your legal fees unnecessarily.
Your second responsibility will be to inform us of any relevant changes in your domestic situation, especially a reconciliation.
When court appearances are scheduled, it will be your responsibility to be present and on time at the designated courtroom in the County Court House. If we determine that witnesses are required to be present on your behalf, you will coordinate everything with them and be certain they know when and where to be. If you are the complainant, then you may need corroborating witnesses.
You will have to produce records of your total income, whether from wages, fees or investments, and all of your assets, and furnish a complete list of debts and liabilities, including amounts required to meet all installment payments. Keep complete notes regarding all living expenses for yourself and for any children or other dependents. When not able to state exact expenses, you should make your best reasonable estimate. Always attempt to be fair to yourself as well as your spouse. A wife will certainly get no more than she asks for, but ought not to ask for either more or less than she reasonably needs. Keep in mind the fact that judges are very experienced in these matters and will quickly recognize exaggerated demands.
Our experience has been that most matters truly necessitating emergency evening discussions are matters involving concern for physical well-being, and if there is a genuine emergency the best procedure is to call the police directly. As lawyers, we represent you in the courts but we can do little to help you at your home. We are not the police and have no more authority than anyone else to intervene.
We stand ready to diligently pursue any matters on your behalf.
The office is generally open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
When calling the office to leave information or make inquiries, you will find all of the secretaries and staff cooperative.
Domestic litigation is a part of American life and almost everyone has been directly or indirectly involved in domestic proceedings. Thus, you can expect to be exposed to a great deal of folk wisdom concerning divorce proceedings. This is the most honest and readily understandable statement of realities of divorce practice our firm could produce in the form of a brief handout. It is designed to make you more knowledgeable about divorce law and less vulnerable to misinformation and uncertainty. This statement is not intended to be a survey of the law and, due to the importance of the individual facts, the generalizations contained herein should not necessarily be applied to any particular case. Also, changes in the law could at any time make parts of this statement obsolete. However, you may be assured that this firm is particularly conscious of the changing law and well equipped to stay abreast of the latest developments, both in state and nationally.
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