Beginning the Divorce Process in New Jersey

Whether you make the decision alone or with your spouse, divorce throws up many considerations, questions, and potential complexities.

One of the main things you’re probably wondering is how does it all start? What processes must be navigated and how can you ensure that you follow the rules so that there are no unnecessary hiccups or delays to your divorce?

Every divorce is slightly different – based on the nature of the relationships involved, the reasons behind the breakdown of the marriage, and the interactions between spouses (and children, if applicable) – but the legal processes remain largely the same.

Let’s look at how to start the divorce process in New Jersey. There are six basic steps to consider in a divorce.

1.File the divorce complaint

A divorce in New jersey starts with filing a divorce complaint (sometimes called a petition for divorce in other states).

The “plaintiff” is the spouse who initiates divorce proceedings. Either partner in a marriage, civil union or domestic partnership can file for divorce providing the residency requirements are met, i.e., at least one partner lives in New Jersey.

Generally speaking, you do not need to file for divorce in the same state in which your marriage license was issued unless you both live in that state. If your marriage license was issued in New York and you still live there but your partner has lived in New Jersey for 12 months, you can file for divorce in NJ.

The complaint identifies the parties, confirms the details of the marriage, and formalizes the grounds for divorce.

Depending on the circumstances of the separation, the plaintiff may request temporary court orders to be issued for custody, parenting, child support and spousal support until the divorce process is completed.

2.Serve your spouse

Once the paperwork has all been completed, the divorce complaint must be “served” to your spouse. This confirms that both parties are aware of the legal processes.

If you are on speaking terms, the easiest way to do this is to deliver copies of the papers to your ex directly. It is generally best to let him or her know that the forms are coming to avoid nasty surprises and potentially compromise an amicable agreement.

Once he or she signs the “Acknowledgment of Receipt” form, you can move on to the next step.

If you are not able to deliver the papers in person, you may need to hire a professional to serve the papers.

3.Await a response

There needs to be a formal response from the spouse who receives the divorce complaint (the “defendant”) if outstanding issues are still be discussed.

In such cases, the defendant may file a general appearance or an answer to the complaint. He or she may choose to answer with counterclaims against the plaintiff if fault has been claimed. New Jersey couples have the option of claiming fault in a divorce (such as adultery or domestic violence) or proceeding as a no-fault divorce where no blame is apportioned.

If the spouse does not respond, the divorce will proceed as uncontested – which is usually quicker, cheaper, and less stressful for both parties.

4.File a Case Information Statement (CIS)

After the response has been received, each party files a Case Information Statement (CIS). This includes important financial documentation relating to children/expenses, income/assets, and any other relevant information for the divorce.

Anything that affects the financial support issues and the state’s equitable distribution laws for marital property division must be submitted with the CIS.

Because the volume of paperwork can be significant, most people seek the assistance of a New Jersey divorce attorney to assist with this.

5.Attend an Early Settlement Panel

Few divorces can be settled simply with negotiations around the kitchen table – though that is the quickest and easiest solution.

Generally speaking, matters of parenting, support and marital property division involve high stakes and spouses want to make sure they make the right decisions as they transition to single life.

If no settlement can be reached by informal preliminary discussions, spouses will need to participate in an Early Settlement Panel in New Jersey.

During this meeting, the legal issues involved in the divorce will be discussed and you will receive recommendations on how best to resolve them.


Commonly, divorce matters are settled either through negotiation and collaboration between lawyers or through mediation or arbitration.

A court trial generally benefits few – and should be avoided if possible. Your divorce attorney will make every effort to protect your interests and avoid the delays and expense of a trial if other better options for settlement are available.

If the recommendations of the Early Settlement Panel are unsuccessful in leading to a settlement, the next step is usually participation in economic mediation sessions. These sessions will also attempt to lead the couple to an agreement.

If mediation is unsuccessful, spouses are required to attend an Intensive Settlement Conference at court or may consider arbitration to help them.

These are generally considered as the final attempts to reach a resolution that does not involve a trial with a judge deciding on the outstanding issues.

After a trial or the submission of an approved settlement agreement, the New Jersey court issues a Final Judgment of Divorce and you and your spouse are legally divorced.

The Law Office of Steven M. Cytryn, LLC can help you reach a settlement without the delays, expense, and stress of a court trial. To discuss your situation, please contact us online or call us at (732) 387-6793 to schedule a consultation with New Brunswick attorney Steven Cytryn.

Steven M. Cytryn
About the Author: Steven Cytryn
Steven M. Cytryn is the Managing Member of The Law Office of Steven M. Cytryn, LLC, and primarily focuses his practice on divorce and family law matters.