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Category: Blog

Anatomy of a New Jersey Divorce, and the Court Process

By Claire Scully, Esq.

A divorce in the State of New Jersey is made up of the following components;

  • Cause of Action
  • Custody
  • Child Support
  • Spousal Support (Alimony)
  • Equitable Distribution of Assets and Debts
  • Counsel Fees

The divorce process is started with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce which contains the Cause of Action, and what relief the spouse filing the Complaint is seeking from the Court. The filing fee is $300.00 if there are no children, and $325.00 if there are children. The extra $25.000 is because the parties have to attend a brief Parenting Class.

The Complaint is personally served on the other spouse, who then has 35 days to file an Answer.  Some weeks after the Complaint and Answer are filed, the Court will schedule a Case Management Conference.  This proceeding will result in a Scheduling/Trial Order signed by the Judge, and providing time deadlines for the process, from that date through the date of trial.

This time period of a divorce is called the Pendente Lite period. It is expected and encouraged that, during the period to time, the parties are having settlement negotiations to try to resolve their matter.

The next Court proceeding is Early Settlement Panel. This is a date when experienced Family Law Attorney will come into Court and volunteer to spend the day trying to help people settle their case. ESP is very helpful, because it provides a neutral, experienced recommendation by someone not involved in the case. The panelists will make a non-binding recommendation as to how the case should settle. The parties can accept the recommendation and get divorce that same day. If the matter does not settle on that date, the Court will order the parties to attend Economic Mediation.

Economic Mediation is done by a private attorney chosen by the parties from a list of mediators trained and approved by the Family Court.  Unlike Early Settlement Panel, Economic Mediation is not free.  The first two hours are free, but after that time period, the mediator must be paid his or her hourly rate for the service of trying to settle your case. Economic Mediation occurs at the mediator’s office.  At the conclusion of economic mediation, the mediator must report to the Court to advise if the case settled.  Nothing discussed at Economic Mediation may be revealed to the Court.

If the case does not settle at Economic Mediation, the Court will expect the parties to begin to prepare for trial. Most cases settle before trial—very few actually go to trial. Trial is emotionally and financially exhausting. Trials take time from the lives of the parties, time from their jobs, time from their families and most importantly, trials take the control from the parties and give it over to the Judge—a total stranger in a black robe. This is why most cases settle without a trial. Despite their differences, most people want to maintain control over their destiny and that of their family, so they settle by way of written, signed Settlement Agreement, and resolve their case in that matter.

Claire Scully, Esq. began as an Assistant District Attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. She then served as an Assistant Prosecutor in the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. She later worked as an Assistant Prosecutor for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Trial Division. She tried felony jury cases on behalf of the State of New Jersey, including robberies, assaults, and drug cases.

Ms. Scully has taught classes at the Monmouth County Police Academy and the Cape May County Police Academy. She is an active member of the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Monmouth County Bar Association. Claire Scully also serves as Vice Chair on the District IX Ethics Committee.

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