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Divorce Grounds in New Jersey

Legal Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey

A little-known statistic is that New Jersey has some of the lowest divorce rates in the country, according to the 2019 American Community Survey performed by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, there are plenty of individuals in the state who are still thinking about ending their marriages. There are both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce available in New Jersey, and we will explore some of them herein.

Getting a No-Fault Divorce in New Jersey

New Jersey, along with every other state as well as the District of Columbia, permits a no-fault divorce. There are two no-fault causes of action in New Jersey, and the one that is most frequently used is called “irreconcilable differences”. For this, all that needs to be shown is that the relationship has broken down for at least six months.

The other no-fault basis for a divorce in New Jersey is physical separation. This is not to be confused with desertion, which is considered one of the at-fault grounds. In this case, a divorce lawyer will advise you that physical separation means that the couple has lived apart in separate residences for at least 18 months.

People do not need to explain to the court the reasons for the divorce or anything about the breakdown in their marriage. Once a couple has lived apart for the period of time required by the particular no-fault ground, a complaint for divorce can be filed. By that point, the party filing the complaint would likely have consulted with a family law attorney.

Many couples prefer a no-fault divorce. They are able to take their time during the separation and work out a settlement agreement with the help of their respective divorce attorneys. There will then be a brief hearing in court where they do not have to air the internal matters of their marriage in front of a judge. In many cases, the judge will issue the decree even if a party who has received proper and timely notice of the hearing does not appear. Today, divorces are happening through the mail without having to go to court.

Fault Divorce Grounds in New Jersey

Legally, the more difficult heavy lifting would come when one party files for divorce and enumerates one or more faults as the basis for the petition. They may want to try to gain the upper hand when it comes to certain aspects of the judge’s eventual ruling, so they make a filing with the court arguing that the other person’s actions were to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. In most but not all cases, fault generally does not impact the child custody or property division parts of the divorce proceedings. The other spouse may not want to concede that they were to blame for the divorce, however, so they may try to dispute the allegation.

It goes without saying that opting for a no-fault divorce is the easiest path to take, other than the time period that is required. However, people have their own reasons why they opt to file a complaint for a divorce that is based on fault. If this is what they choose, there are several types of behavior or incidents that they could use to obtain a dissolution of their marriage. If you intend to file for divorce under any one of these grounds, it is up to you to prove all of the elements that are necessary. This is not always easy to do, and as divorce proceedings are open to the public, people might feel reluctant to air what may be embarrassing details about the state of their marriage.

Extreme Cruelty

This ground for a fault divorce could perhaps sound worse than it is. Of course, it would include things such as frequent physical and verbal abuse that are every bit as bad as they sound. Extreme cruelty could also include a lack of consistent emotional support over a prolonged period of time. This could range from behavior that endangers the welfare and safety of one spouse to actions that just make it impossible to live together in a marriage. How detailed this ground of divorce gets depends on the evidence that you can produce in support of your claim.

Adultery

This is a common basis for a fault divorce. The spouse who was being cheated on may want it put on record that the other spouse engaged in that type of conduct. However, it is not easy to prove adultery, and the evidence must be specific instead of circumstantial. With that in mind, one may question why someone would go through the effort and expense of hiring a family law attorney to prove adultery. In general, this will not have any effect on the eligibility of the party who committed it to receive alimony or on their share of the equitable distribution of marital property. However, if that party spent marital funds on the affair, the other party might be entitled to reimbursement.

Desertion

Under the applicable New Jersey statute, the term “desertion” as a basis for divorce means the willful and continued abandonment of a marriage for a period of at least 12 months. This can be established in one or more ways, including proof that the couple has entirely stopped cohabiting as a married couple for that length of time.

The list above is just a partial one. Other grounds for a divorce that is based on fault could include:

  • The habitual and voluntary abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Imprisonment for 18 or more consecutive months, presuming that the couple did not resume cohabiting after the release from prison
  • Engaging in deviant sexual behavior without the consent of the filing party
  • Being institutionalized in a psychiatric facility for at least 24 consecutive months after the date of the marriage

Divorce From Bed or Board

This is a more limited type of a divorce that couples might be able to obtain on an interim basis while they are figuring out their own future. It is not a full divorce, but instead, it is a more formal type of separation. Eventually, if the couple continues to remain apart, this could be converted to a full divorce. This is something that both spouses must consent to, and they will remain technically married until a final divorce decree has been issued by the court. It is very easy to go from this legal status to a final divorce. First, a family lawyer would help you negotiate a marital settlement agreement that handles property and custody issues.

New Jersey has added no-fault grounds that make ending a marriage somewhat easier, kinder and gentler. With that in mind, many spouses find that it is less painful to let the required amount of time pass before filing a divorce petition. This would take away some of the bitterness and allow both parties to focus on key legal issues such as child custody and property division. Before you decide whether to pursue fault or no-fault grounds, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

For help with your divorce matter, contact the family lawyers at Lawrence Law at (908) 645-1000. You can speak with one of our divorce lawyers in Watchung or Red Bank to figure out the best way for you to proceed.

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