Sadly, the rate for marriage ending in divorce has escalated in the past few years/decades. Once upon a time people married and stayed together, through thick and thin, for life. Often, though there were irreconcilable differences, people stayed together for the sake of the kids as they knew the turbulence of divorce and the divisiveness that results is often difficult on the kids. But sometimes the relationship becomes intolerable and you seek an exit, vowing that you will not let the kids suffer the consequences of this faltered relationship.
Fight or flight
The divorce statistics are pretty scary – some 40 to 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. Before your marriage becomes just another statistic, you might consider a brief separation, or better yet, counseling. Applying the old “absence makes the heart go fonder” principle, living apart and away from the fray might result in clearer heads and a chance to reclaim the love and restore the relationship to an earlier status. Seeing a licensed marriage counsellor might help you get a clearer picture and work through those difficulties, though for the therapist to work his or her magic there must be a commitment on behalf of both parties. Marriage counseling will not easily iron out situations where there are addiction or domestic violence issues present, because if the situation has been longstanding, often, after counseling sessions are completed, the situation will return, or, may even been exacerbated.
Thus, if a trial separation and marriage counseling will not work for your situation, or you’ve traveled down those paths before, then sadly it appears your next step would be consulting with a divorce lawyer.
Discussed below are a few basics of how the divorce procedure works so you are in the know. After you gather your thoughts, and the appropriate documentation, now is the time to leave your problems in the hands of a top divorce lawyer in New Jersey.
The divorce process
When you consult with a divorce attorney, you will be told what to expect during the pendency of the matter, from the filing of the initial paperwork, up to the day you appear before the judge and the marriage is dissolved. Traditionally, each of the parties obtains their own attorney. This is because during the pendency of divorce proceedings, sometimes emotions escalate or the situation becomes quite contentious and you will be grateful for the expertise of your divorce attorney to act on your behalf only. Sometimes, even if your relationship is amicable and you and your spouse determine you could traverse through the proceedings without benefit of legal counsel, it is still recommended that legal counsel should be obtained to ensure financial benefits, especially spousal support and/or parental rights are obtained correctly so further attorney consultations or another trip before a judge can be avoided.
Assess the situation
When you first meet with a divorce attorney, you will be asked if you have opted for a trial separation or attended marriage counseling, and, if, in your heart you consider divorce the very best solution going forward. You should anticipate that the attorney will ask you some basic questions re: ongoing financial support by your spouse in order that the divorce paperwork will give a suggested alimony payment schedule. Additionally, if minor children are involved, your family will need to set up a schedule for custody and/or visitation as well as support for these children. Continued healthcare for both you and the children will be discussed as well, especially if you do not work and relied on your spouse for healthcare insurance. An asset schedule will need to be hammered out and who will continue to reside in the current home and/or whether it will be sold and the proceeds of the sale divided. These are all questions which you and your divorce attorney will delve into, detail by detail, and overwhelming as everything seems, compiling lists of assets and/or expenses, as well as any questions you might have in advance will make the initial meeting go much smoother for both you and your attorney, and, will assist him in preparing the initial divorce paperwork.
The divorce process will officially commence with the filing of the “Petition for Divorce” or “Complaint”. This document will set forth the names of the parties (you and your spouse) and the parties are referred to as the “petitioner” and “respondent” or “plaintiff” and “defendant”. The petition will state the reason that the party filing the petition is seeking the marriage to be dissolved. In most states the reason given is simply due to “irreconcilable differences” or “incompatibility” and the document will also request that the judge grant the divorce, in addition to any relief requested, which items will be delineated within the petition. Such items, depending on the situation, may include a restraining order if domestic violence has come into play, as well as parameters for spousal support (alimony), child support and custody/visitation of the minor children involved. Once the petition is filed, it will be served upon your spouse, usually by a process server, or a member of the local sheriff’s office. Once served, the respondent (your spouse) has 30 days to retain an attorney and respond to your petition.
The discovery process
The discovery process is a period of time once the petition has been filed and responded to, where both attorneys will diligently begin collecting information about each party. Thus will begin a process where attorneys will seek information in the form of “Interrogatories”, or legal questions, which must be answered truthfully and completely within thirty days. Besides interrogatories, there may be “Admissions of Fact” which are similar to Interrogatories, except, instead of providing each answer, the respondent must is asked to either admit or deny each of the listed statements. Sometimes a “Request for Production of Documents” will be filed wherein the attorney will ask the other side to provide a list of documents (often of a financial nature) which might prove to be beneficial to his client. Additionally, many attorneys will require a “deposition”, or sworn testimony, to be taken from the opposition party, as well testimony from any pertinent witnesses. You will be asked a series of questions where both attorneys are present as well as a court reporter who will transcribe your testimony verbatim and it will be typed up and become an official part of the court record.
Once the discovery phase is completed and the respective attorneys have gathered information and documents and/or sworn testimony, the next step will be obtaining the decree dissolving the marriage. This may be done via mediation or in divorce court. If the fact and document gathering has been swift and not contentious, and the relationship is fairly amicable, the parties and their attorneys may opt for mediation.
- Mediation is a process where a court-appointed attorney will act as a mediator to negotiate a settlement between the parties without the need to proceed to court for divorce proceedings.
- A divorce proceeding is the last resort if mediation was not successful, or, there are still unresolved issues which must be dealt with in open court by a judge. The judge will review all the evidence gathered during the pendency of the matter and issue a divorce decree based upon income, assets and children. The parties will acknowledge the judge’s decision and sign the decree of divorce. Accompanying that decree of divorce are orders that set forth spousal support or child support (if applicable). All these documents are filed within the family court judicial system and made a part of the court records should there be additional issues arising in the future, especially as to financial support with regard to you or your children. If either party is not satisfied with the decree of divorce, their attorney may file a motion to appeal the order and request a new hearing. However, the hearing will be heard by the same judge as he or she is familiar with the matter. It is unlikely that the judge will overturn his/her own original order, so the next step will be appealing to your state’s appellate court.
Hopefully the process is swift. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how long the entire process will take from filing of the paperwork to the divorce decree. The matter may languish in the court system if the family court docket is burdened by many matters or, if your situation is contentious and there are court appearances that crop up before the divorce decree is issued.
It is not a situation to navigate alone so your best bet is to contact expert legal counsel to assist you and look out for your best interests.