Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey
Very few people, if any, take the time to reflect and realize that when they enter into the bonds of matrimony, they are not simply inviting their partner into their lives, but rather, they are also inviting the State of New Jersey into their lives as well. Marriage is most commonly thought of as a relationship forged by the bonds of love, but first and foremost it is a legal contract. When the two parties enter into matrimony, they create a legal contract between the couple and the State of New Jersey as well.
Ironically, the time that most people realize this fact is at the conclusion of their marriage, when one or both parties decide to pursue a divorce. In pursuing a divorce, the parties are not only seeking to repudiate their legal relationship with each other, but they are also seeking to terminate the legal contract formed between each other and the state as well.
At our office, we understand that going through a divorce can be an emotionally debilitating and permanently life-altering event with boundless unknown emotional and financial ramifications. We also understand how nasty, nit-picky, time-consuming, and expensive some divorces tend to become, even in cases where parties have the best of intentions. When going through a divorce, not only are you dealing with your spouse, which may not always be easy, but you are forced into playing by the State’s divorce laws, which can complicate and confuse things even more for you.
At our office, we encourage couples to try to work out their differences when possible, and view divorce as a last resort option only! Even when divorce becomes the last and only option, our first goal is encourage you to reach an agreement with your partner as to all terms of the divorce, so as to save you the stress, time, energy, embarrassment, and costs associated with a contested divorce. We have guided thousands of people through their divorces and are well versed in addressing and handling all issues that may arise in your divorce case. We pride ourselves not only on our legal expertise, but upon our down-to-earth approachable nature, as we are there for our client’s emotional needs as well.
We recognize that when divorce becomes the only option, you need a skilled and aggressive family law attorney, sympathetic to your needs that will assist to ensure that you are armed with adequate financial protection as you move forward with your new life.
One of the first steps in the divorce process is to understand how the State deals with divorce. Prior to filing for a divorce in New Jersey, certain residence requirements must be met. Generally speaking, the State requires that one or both of the parties have resided in New Jersey for a year prior to the commencement of their divorce, or requires that at least one of the parties be a legal resident of the state.
Next, a party wishing to divorce must decide upon which specific “ground” they will base their divorce. New Jersey statutes are clear that when a couple wishes to divorce, they must cite a specific ground before their divorce will be granted. Specifically, New Jersey’s divorce statute enumerates nine grounds for divorce that a party may plead to the Court in order to get their divorce granted. Those nine grounds are as follows:
- Desertion for a term of 12 months or more;
- Extreme cruelty (physical or mental abuse that endangers the safety or health of one of the parties);
- Separation for a period of at least 18 consecutive months, with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation;
- Addiction to narcotics and/or habitual drunkenness;
- Institutionalization for mental illness for a period of 24 or more consecutive months;
- Imprisonment of a party for 18 or more consecutive months after the marriage;
- Deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed upon another party without the consent of the other spouse; and
- Irreconcilable differences which have caused the breakdown of the marriage for a period of 6 months, and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
These nine grounds for divorce can be separated into two categories: fault and no-Fault. A fault-based ground requires the party seeking the divorce to prove or demonstrate to the court specific instances of marital misconduct evidencing the particular fault ground that they pled. A “no-fault” ground, on the other hand, is simply a ground that a party may plead in their divorce papers that does not require them to put blame on the other party.
Of New Jersey’s nine grounds for divorce, two are “no-fault” grounds. Those two grounds are “separation for a period of 18 months” and “irreconcilable differences.” When a party files for divorce alleging either of these two grounds, courts presume that there is nothing further the parties can do to preserve the marriage and will generally grant the divorce without delving into any of the specific acts of marital misconduct by the parties.
Two clear advantages of pursuing a no-fault divorce are privacy and cost. By pleading a no-fault ground, a party is shielded from airing the couple’s “dirty laundry” in public. This protects both parties from the disclosure of specific embarrassing behaviors and incidents that occurred during the marriage, and can be particularly beneficial to the children of the marriage who sometimes may be the only witnesses who can prove a specific fault ground that was pled. Pleading a no-fault ground generally insulates the children from having to come to court and testify about their parents.
Additionally, costs are generally spared when a party pleads a no-fault ground, as there is generally no need for expensive private investigators or extra attorney involvement in developing the necessary proof the court requires to demonstrate the specific misconduct upon which a fault-based ground depends.
Because of these two clear benefits, our office always tries to encourage parties to resolve their marriage by pleading a no-fault ground when possible. This method generally assures a less contentious, more streamlined divorce. It also encourages the parties to hammer out the remaining details of their divorce by agreement. Generally such divorces do not result in subpoenas, depositions, or trials.
On the other hand, when a party pursues a divorce on a fault-based ground, the court requires that the party prove the fault ground with specific demonstrations of marital misconduct by the other party to substantiate the ground(s) that they pled. Of the six fault-based grounds for divorce, adultery, extreme cruelty, and desertion are the most commonly pled.
Proving fault-based allegations can be embarrassing, time-consuming, and expensive. It may require surveillance by a private investigator, subpoenaing the other party’s telephone records, interviewing their co-workers, and involve additional witnesses such as the parties’ children, extended family, and acquaintances. Some fault-based divorces have the tendency to result in nasty, personal mudslinging, along with protracted depositions, and even lengthy bitter trials. Further, these types of divorces often place the outcome of the divorce squarely in the hands of a judge and may lead to an unpredictable outcome.
While we have extensive divorce trial experience filled with excellent outcomes, where possible, we attempt to guide our clients away from these types of divorces which can be stressful, costly, and completely unpredictable. However, just like a marriage, every divorce is unique and when the parties cannot agree to the divorce or its terms, fault-based divorces can become necessary and in those cases we are ready to go to war for you! Often times, fault-based divorces and trials become necessary in situations where fault may influence a relevant financial factor, such as whether a party may be entitled to alimony.
Our first priority is always the preservation of our clients’ marriage and family. And when divorce is the only option, we always work with our clients, encouraging and advising them to workout the terms of their divorce by agreeing to avoid bitter and costly legal battles. However, in many cases, an agreed divorce is just not possible. State laws dictate exactly how a divorce may be pursued and these laws may not only influence the outcome of your divorce, but the future life of you and your family as well. If you are going through a divorce or even considering a divorce, do not go about it alone. Call our offices today for a free sit-down with a friendly and experienced family law attorney so that we can help you get the outcome you desire in the most cost-effective and stress-free manner possible. Call us today!