I am ready to divorce, what now?
You’re ready. It’s beyond a dry spell, it’s beyond working on better communication skills, heck—it’s even beyond therapy (or maybe you tried therapy and it was unsuccessful). I’ve yet to meet a client who takes the decision to divorce lightly. There’s the children, the financial implications, the children!, the emotional baggage. It’s not something easily contemplated or undertaken.
But when it’s time…..it’s time.
For most people family court will be their first experience with the legal system. Period. The process may at first seem like a difficult maze or even a labyrinth to endure. How could this be, you may find yourself thinking–it was so EASY to GET married. But alas, a marriage is (like many things in life!) much easier to get into than out of.
The Primary Methods Towards Divorce
It was a quick marriage. There are no children involved. The cost of fighting over assets would be greater than the value of those assets. Or maybe (perhaps most rarely) you and your spouse were able to sit down and work out your differences. This is the amicable divorce, the “quickie” divorce, but it takes both parties’ consent. In this process one of you will still file for divorce but with a request that the divorce be processed. You will still generally attach a statement setting forth the specific terms of your divorce agreement (often referred to as a Marital Settlement Agreement or Property Settlement Agreement). This method may follow mediation (where a memorandum of understanding may be drafted) or not. It may occur with the assistance of counsel or absent counsel. The risks with the uncontested divorce may be (depending upon whether or not you have counsel) procedural issues or agreeing to something that may not be entirely fair. The benefit is it will cost much less than a contested divorce and will move quickly.
The Default Divorce
Yes, the dreaded “default” divorce. This is when your spouse disappears, flees the country (often to avoid paying support), mysteriously joins the federal witness protection program, refuses service, or simply refuses to acknowledge the legal action after being served. My personal LEAST favorite method of divorce (for my clients) as it often involves a great deal of time and paperwork (on the part of the party that is actually responsible) and courts will generally bend over backwards to allow the defaulting party access to the court even if they file late and after preliminary default papers are filed.
Collaborative Law Divorce
In 2014 the State issued specific collaborative divorce laws allowing parties to enter into a process where they agree to forego litigation. The attorneys will agree to not represent the party in litigation should it not settle. This holistic approach is a cousin of the “uncontested divorce” and may use an interdisciplinary approach to work towards amicable resolution.
If you believe you and your spouse are on similar footing regarding power dynamics (and generally assuming there is no domestic violence history) then mediation (with or without attorneys present) may be a beneficial method to utilize a neutral party to work towards an even deal. The cons are it may be costly in the short term having an additional professional involved. The pros are avoiding the time and potentially costly contested divorce process.
Generally (but not always binding) arbitration can replace the contested divorce process. One con I have seen is a party dissatisfied with the arbitration still attempting to resuscitate issues (sometimes ad nausem) in the Superior Court anyway. Arbitration can be a more private setting for sensitive cases and can always move lighter and faster than the sometimes grinding court system.
Once the court is involved the case is not entirely in your hands. There will be mandatory court appearances, the intervention of judges, and if you cannot settle prior to trial, a decision made by the judge that is entirely outside either parties’ full control. This is the classic divorce process and still one commonly utilized. The structure of this process is a pro (eventually—but it might be years from now–this process will lead to formal divorce sanctioned by the court). The cons are the potential cost and aforementioned issues of not having control over your case. In family court the vast majority (95%+) of cases settle before trial, which is similar to other areas of the law.
If you’re ready to discuss your options and believe my firm may be a good fit, please contact me. If you would like to read a more in-depth analysis of New Jersey Divorce Law, click here to download my free ebook: New Jersey Divorce Law: The Path Forward.
[Note: If you wish to schedule an initial consultation with my firm, I welcome the opportunity to meet with you. Simply call 908-237-3096, email me at email@example.com, or click this link to schedule your own divorce consult online. ]