A client may want a divorce, but may be unsure on what basis a court would grant them a divorce. In New Jersey, there are several grounds for divorce. The legal term for grounds for divorce is “cause of action.” In every divorce, a party has to allege a specific cause of action that warrants a legally sustainable basis for a divorce.
The most utilized cause of action is irreconcilable differences. A party may plead that there have been “irreconcilable differences which have caused the breakdown of the marriage for a period of six months and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved and that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.” Accordingly, a party can simply plead irreconcilable differences, with no other allegation, and meet the legal standard of irreconcilable differences. There is no requirement for a period of separation. There is no need for name calling or disparaging the other party. A simple and innocuous assertion of irreconcilable differences is enough to meet the standard.
Filing under irreconcilable differences allows divorcing parties to proceed in a kinder, gentler fashion. This is extremely important to many couples, particularly those with children. Because divorce pleadings are public record, many clients are uncomfortable having to air the private and personal details of their married life in a divorce pleading.
Prior to the enactment of irreconcilable differences as a viable cause of action, most couples proceeded on the grounds of extreme cruelty. In this situation, a client has to assert acts of extreme cruelty that occurred during the marriage. I require my clients to provide me with six to eight allegations. Some struggle to have three allegations, while others give me hundreds. The beauty of irreconcilable differences is that a client no longer has to engage in this type of mudslinging. They still can, if they wish, but with irreconcilable differences available as grounds, they have the option not to.
18 Month Separation
In addition to irreconcilable differences and extreme cruelty, parties can file on the grounds of an 18-month separation. This cause of action is not widely utilized because most people cannot afford to live separate and apart for 18 months before filing for divorce. Therefore, these litigants were forced to allege extreme cruelty and come up with allegations against their spouses. Now the farce is over, and clients can simply say they have irreconcilable differences to meet the legal threshold necessary to file a complaint for divorce.
In addition to irreconcilable differences, extreme cruelty, and 18 months separation, a party can proceed with an adultery cause of action which requires that they plead and eventually prove that their spouse had opportunity and inclination to cheat on them.
Desertion (12 or more consecutive months of no intimacy), imprisonment (18 or more months), deviant sexual conduct, habitual drunkenness, or drug addiction (12 or more months) still remain viable options as grounds for divorce. Filing under these grounds will not provide one with a financial benefit. In these cases, the client is often driven by his or her emotions to plead a cause of action.
It is the client’s personal decision as to which cause of action to assert in their complaint. New Jersey now provides litigants with a variety of grounds to obtain a divorce.
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