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The process of divorcing in New Jersey starts with filing a complaint for divorce with the court. It concludes with a Judge enters a final judgment of divorce. There can be many turns in the road between the time that a complaint is filed and the time that a judge enters a final judgment of divorce. A simple case, one where all issues are easily resolved, can be completed almost immediately. However, many cases involve disagreements and issues that must be more thoroughly investigated. If that’s the situation, the parties will engage in what is called discovery. Discovery is an exchange of information or evidence so that each party has knowledge about the other side. It usually involves securing financial and personal information to assist in decisions about separating assets, paying support and custody/parenting time.
At the start of a case, the court will enter a case management order. This is an order which sets forth what evidence or discovery the parties have to exchange and the time to do so. It also identifies the issues that are in the case, such as equitable distribution of property, spousal support or alimony, child support, custody, parenting time, and even how college education for the children should be paid. Once the case management order is in place, each party exchanges requests for information from the other side. The requests that are made in writing are called interrogatories and they are often very comprehensive, with some containing over 100 questions with subsections. These questions dive into every single issue, including educational background, health, time spent with the children, assets, employment, and relationships with other people such as family members who may be financially influential or able to act as caretakers of the children. We also subpoena bank and financial records to secure accurate information needed to understand the parties’ full financial picture.
After all of the “paper” discovery has been gathered, a deposition might be required. A Deposition is a series of questions answered in the presence of a court reporter and under oath. I often like to videotape depositions to capture the person’s face and mannerisms, which could be helpful if the case were to go to trial. During a deposition, we ask many the same questions as those asked in the interrogatories. However, we can also ask follow-up questions. Oftentimes, lawyers guide their clients or actually answer the interrogatories for them, but they can’t do that at the deposition. Thus, the information is more helpful in evaluating the other party than written answers.
Depositions serve a number of purposes. As a lawyer, they allow me to see what I am dealing with. Is this person really honest? Are they lying? Do they have the information? Are they being genuine? Are they particularly nervous and therefore likely to avoid court? The information allows us to craft our strategy going forward. Depositions are expensive because they take a number of hours and require paying for two lawyers, a court reporter, and potentially a videographer. Due to the expense, depositions are not taken in every case, but they are effective tools for learning information about the other party that can be used in more substantial or complex matters.
In some cases, we will have to engage experts. The simplest expert that everyone would know about is an appraiser, which is a person who would place a value on the house, a wine collection, a pension, or any other valuable item. On occasion we will hire a forensic accountant to analyze the value of a business or a financial expert to track money that one spouse may be hiding. If one spouse has been out of the workforce for a while and they are going to need to get back into the workforce as a result of the divorce, we may hire an employability expert who will meet with them, review their resume, and prepare a report outlining what they are capable of earning in the workforce. After we gather all of the evidence, we will try to negotiate with the other party and their lawyer to try and resolve the case. Sometimes this is just not possible because the parties can’t stand each other and shouldn’t be in the same room. Other times, a restraining order will prevent negotiating with the other party in the same room. Unfortunately, those situations do make settlement more difficult.
The court has a system in place whereby the parties are forced into a room for what’s called an early settlement panel. Although the rules vary by county, this is basically an alternative dispute resolution procedure whereby lawyers from the county volunteer their time and experience to hear each party’s side of the story. They hear each side’s presentation of how they think the case should settle, and based upon their experience as attorneys and their knowledge of the judges in the particular county, they make recommendations in an attempt to help the parties settle the case. This process can serve many good purposes. For example, it may reaffirm what an attorney was already telling their client or it may serve as an eye-opener in terms of the parties realizing that if they don’t settle, they may have to spend a lot of money on a trial—money that could be better spent on their children.
However, if the panel recommendations don’t work to settle a case, the judge will order the parties to choose a financial mediator and proceed to mediation. The mediators get paid for their time on an hourly basis; they are hired for the day and will focus exclusively on the case at hand. Mediation is a much more intense and longer version of the early settlement panel. Unfortunately, if mediation is unsuccessful, then there are only be two options remaining. The first option is called an intensive settlement conference (ISC). This too is similar to a mediation, but is done in the courthouse and is conducted by a judge. The trial judge will have another judge try to help resolve the issues, just as the mediator did. However, having a judge who is wearing a robe can sometimes make a psychological difference for people and encourage them to heed the advice given. If that is not successful, then the last option will be trial. Trials can be very time-consuming and expensive. Furthermore, they are carried out in piecemeal fashion, which adds tremendously to their cost. This is why it is always in the client’s best interest to settle; going to trial is not only time-consuming and expensive, but also leaves their fate in the hands of someone who does not know them at all. Unfortunately, there are situations where one party is completely unreasonable in their demands to settle. Under those cases a Trial maybe the best or only option to secure a fair result.
For more information on Process of Divorce In The State Of New Jersey, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (855) 208-3650 today.