Sussex County Divorce Lawyers
Divorce is a confusing time for most people. Many times, marriages end suddenly and without warning. Even if both parties somewhat anticipate the marriage dissolution, there is considerable uncertainty over what to expect next. On top of these emotional and legal questions, there are financial ones, as well, mainly about family support and property division.
At Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C., we have answers to these questions, both in the conference room and in the courtroom. We start by listening to your situation and offering solid legal advice that includes all the possible pros and cons. Then, once we jointly decide on a course of action, we work hard to protect your legal rights, and financial rights, against those who would try to take them away.
Divorce or Legal Separation?
Marriage dissolution permanently and completely severs the legal ties between husband and wife, and only a remarriage can restore them. As a result, divorce sometimes has unforeseen and/or unwanted consequences for some couples, such as the loss of inheritance rights or disqualification from an employer-sponsored health insurance plan.
Furthermore, some people have a legitimate ethical objection to full marriage dissolution, since as of 2016, only about two-thirds of Americans believe that divorce is morally acceptable.
In circumstances like these, a legal separation, which is also known as a limited divorce or a divorce from bed and board, may be a good alternative. Both spouses must agree to a limited divorce, but other than that, most of the other procedural aspects discussed below fully apply.
Limited divorces are usually successful only if the husband and wife actively communicate during their separation and they are both on the same page in terms of their future plans. In the absence of such dialogue, the responding party typically counterclaims for divorce, thus ending any realistic chance for a divorce from bed and board.
Grounds for Divorce
Most divorces, and most legal separations, are no-fault proceedings in New Jersey, based on either:
- A physical separation of at least 18 consecutive months
- “Irreconcilable differences” of at least six months.
In both these situations, the filing spouse must also prove that there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation, and either the spouse’s own testimony, or the mere fact that someone filed for divorce, usually suffices.
No-fault divorces require no additional proof, which usually keeps the proceedings more quiet and also somewhat expedites the process. However, there are some instances where an evidence-based divorce is a better course of action. For example, many people want or need a declaration that the other person was largely at fault for the breakup of the marriage.
The most common grounds are:
- Adultery: Although the term is broader now than it used to be, most courts still require a physical affair, as use of pornographic websites is still not considered adultery in most jurisdictions.
- Desertion: The abandonment must be “willful and continued,” and last for at least 12 consecutive months.
- Cruelty: The physical, emotional, verbal, or other abuse must be so extreme that further cohabitation is dangerous, as opposed to simply insupportable (difficult or impossible).
- Substance Abuse: Similar to abandonment, the conduct must be intentional and last for at least 12 months.
Technically, most New Jersey judges do not consider fault in the breakup of the marriage when dividing property, but a back door may be available.
Serving the Divorce Complaint
Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the divorce cannot proceed without giving the other spouse notice and an opportunity to be heard.
Typically, that means personal service is necessary, and there are strict rules in New Jersey concerning eligible persons to serve legal paperwork, as well as the acceptable time, place, and manner for such services. Generally, respondents have about 30 days to file written responses to divorce complaints.
If the respondent cannot be located, substituted service by posting, mail, or legal notice may suffice. The petitioner must complete a due diligence affidavit, and the court must approve the substitute service. If the respondent does not answer within the prescribed time, as is generally the case, the respondent will be in default and the petitioner may proceed.
There are no set rules regarding service via social media, like Facebook, but some judges will consider such alternative service on a case-by-case basis.
About two weeks following successful service, most judges hold a temporary hearing to make interim orders. Many times, these temporary orders are the blueprints for the final orders, so aggressive representation is necessary at these hearings for both petitioners and respondents.
Judges usually make interim orders for child custody, child support, and spousal support. Moreover, if there is evidence of abuse, many judges will order restricted visitation and also direct the party to attend anger management or other classes. The full temporary orders also usually contain other directives designed to combat domestic violence.
These temporary orders are usually subject to subsequent modification based on new evidence, such as a social services investigation.
Reach out to Experienced Attorneys
Even seemingly simple divorces are often rather complex, so for a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Sussex County, contact Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. After hours appointments are available.