What Happens After Someone Files For Divorce In New Jersey?
In New Jersey, when someone files for divorce, the complaint gets served and their spouse has up to 35 days to file an answer and/or a counterclaim. A counterclaim is when the served spouse is also asking the court for a divorce. The court will then schedule a Case Management Conference. A case management conference facilitates the exchange of financial information and other issues. Each party has to fill out a Case Information Statement, which is a questionnaire that lists your income and all of your expenses, such as household expenses, car expenses, and personal expenses. It also sets forth a list of your assets and liabilities
If children are involved the Case Management Order will identify whether custody and parenting time is an issue. I always advise clients that the court prefers that the Parties determine the custody and visitation arrangement because they know their children better than anybody else. The Parties should be able to sit down and establish a Custody and Parenting Time Plan . If the Parties cannot come up with a solution between themselves, your case will get referred to Custody and Parenting Time Mediation. Custody and parenting time mediation is a program at the county level. At the mediation, you’ll meet with a social worker without your attorneys to try to come up with an agreement with the help of a trained social worker.
Hopefully, that meeting will result in a custody and parenting time agreement that will end that part of the case. If you can’t resolve it at that meeting, the Court will have to decide the custody and parenting time issues. The Court will require an expert evaluation and interview with the parties and possibly the children. This is a very expensive process. Most of the costs will go towards the experts. The costs could be from $5,000 to as high as $20,000. A custody dispute is not good for the family, the parents, and certainly not for the children. In addition, you’re allowing a judge, who doesn’t know either one of the parties or the children, to make a decision based upon the best interest of the children. I do not encourage custody battles. I advise clients to try to work it out and come up with a solution for the children because when you leave it up to a judge, you never know what the Court will decide.
After the exchange of financial information, and a determination of whether or not you have a custody dispute, the next step is for the parties and their attorneys to go before and Early Settlement Panel, which are two experienced matrimonial attorneys. Each party will present their case to the panelists and they will make a recommendation with respect to Alimony, Child Support and Equitable Distribution. If the matter is not resolved at ESP then the parties will be sent to Economic Mediation. Economic Mediation will be with an attorney that is chosen by the parties’ attorneys. He/She will provide two hours of his/her time free of charge. The first hour is to review the submissions of the parties and the second hour is to attempt to resolve your case. After two hours the parties may continue with the mediation if progress has been made or the mediation will stop. If the mediation continues, the parties will be equally responsible for the mediator’s hourly rate.
Who Has Custody Of Children Throughout The Divorce Process?
Usually, if there is some arrangement during the marriage where one spouse is the primary caretaker, he or she should continue to be the primary caretaker. Typically, one spouse is the primary caretaker while the other spouse is the wage earner. Under those circumstances, traditional visitation is every other weekend, one or two nights a week, and two weeks’ vacation in the summertime. Your typical joint custody arrangement is when one parent is the primary, and the other one has rights to parenting time. Another option is shared custody where the children share their time between the parties on an equal basis.
If the parties are still living in the same house during the divorce, then there is no need for any kind of custody and visitation plan. If the parties are separated, and they’ve developed a plan, the plan will continue through the divorce. That initial plan may even continue, perhaps with some modifications, after the divorce. Again, it’s a situation where the parties know what’s best for their children. If you get to a point where there are a few outstanding issues to enter into an agreement, then the Parties can go to Custody and Parenting Time Mediation. It doesn’t make sense to have a custody battle in New Jersey. It’s very expensive, and it’s not a healthy way to try to resolve the conflict regarding the children. If the Court is going to decide custody the Court will consider the following factors:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantial abuse;
- The interaction and relationship of the child with parents and siblings;
- The history of domestic violence, if any;
- The safety of the child and the safety of ether parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered; the quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The fitness of the parents;
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
- The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
- The age and number of children.
However, the primary consideration, after consideration of the above factors is the “best interest” of the children.
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