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What is an uncontested divorce hearing in New Jersey?

Statistically speaking, 97%-98% of all divorce cases settle before trial. Of the remaining 2%-3%, half of those cases settle during trial. If you are going through a divorce, it is safe to say that your case will settle. I tell my clients that generally it is not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when,” their case will settle.

Here is the breakdown of a divorce in New Jersey:

1. Settlement

There are barriers to settlement. In some cases, the parties are just not emotionally ready to settle. The case may linger while the parties take time to accept the end of their marriage and gain clarity and strength needed to participate in their divorce.

In other situations, a case may not be ready substantively to settle. Experts can be involved in determining the value of assets. A custody and parenting time evaluation may take place if custody is an issue. In these circumstances, a case may not settle until the experts conclude their evaluations and render their reports. These processes take time and can delay the settlement of the case.

Once all issues are known, the main goal of the spouses is to reach a settlement and memorialize the terms of same into a contract. This contract is known as a Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”). It can also be referred to as a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) – the terms are used interchangeably.

2.  Property Settlement Agreement

A PSA is a written agreement between a husband and wife. The PSA addresses all issues arising out of a marriage. The PSA covers all relevant and germane issues of the marriage. Custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, and equitable distribution are the general areas for consideration. Subcategories of those areas can be complex. Tailor the PSA to your individual marriage and to the facts of your case.

3. Filing

The divorce can be finalized once the parties have settled their issues and a PSA has been prepared, reviewed, approved and signed. To finalize the divorce, one party (the Plaintiff) has to file a Complaint for Divorce asserting a legally recognized cause of action for divorce. Most people are filing under irreconcilable differences as the grounds for their divorce.

There are also fault based grounds for divorce. The most utilized fault ground is extreme cruelty. Other causes of action, such as desertion or adultery, give a basis for the filing of a divorce complaint.

As long as the parties have a fully executed PSA, the other party can simply waive the right to answer the Complaint and the right to appear at the divorce hearing. In that event, the couple can expect to be divorced within 3-4 weeks. In some New Jersey counties, you can be divorced by mail and never have to appear in court.

4. Finalizing the Divorce

At the hearing, the Plaintiff will appear before a Superior Court Judge and the parties will be divorced on an uncontested basis. The Judge will sign a Final Judgment of Divorce. This Judgment legally dissolves the marriage.

The divorce is final and the post divorce relationship is now governed by the PSA.

If you have questions about this post or any other family law matter, please contact me at jlawrence@lawlawfirm.com.

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