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How Long Does the Divorce Process Take?

A woman signing divorce papers.

Thanks to a New Jersey court mandate, resolution of most divorce cases should take no more than a year from the time the divorce complaint is filed. It can require as little as 45 days to finalize an uncontested divorce with no points of contention.

However, there are many factors that can affect how long the process takes, in part because compliance with New Jersey divorce laws is essential. These laws govern:

  • Who can file for divorce
  • Where to file for divorce
  • How to file for divorce
  • Acceptable reasons for divorce
  • Division of assets (property)
  • Spousal support (alimony)
  • Child custody, visitation, and support

If there are complications involving any of these requirements and/or major points of dispute such as alimony or child custody, a divorce will take longer. 

Hiring an experienced divorce lawyer is crucial to ensure that someone going through a divorce understands and complies with all applicable requirements and deadlines. A New Jersey divorce attorney also provides peace of mind by guiding his or her client through the process and discussing legal options. 

The Divorce Process in New Jersey: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here is the process for a contested New Jersey divorce from start to finish. 

  1. First, the plaintiff (the person seeking the divorce) files the complaint for divorce in the Family Division of the appropriate court. This form states the reason(s) for the divorce and includes any issues to be addressed, such as alimony, child custody, child support, and division of assets and debts. Several other documents will also have to be completed, such as the summons and the certification regarding redaction of personal identifiers, among others. An attorney can help their client fill out the necessary forms.
  2. The court clerk sends a copy of the filed complaint back to the plaintiff. The plaintiff will then have it delivered to his or her spouse (the defendant), along with a summons. As noted above, this is called “serving” the papers. 
  3. Once the defendant gets them, they can file an “answer,” responding to or contesting what is stated in the complaint; an “answer and counterclaim”;  or an “appearance.” 
  4. The next step is a case management conference. This is a meeting convened by the judge where the plaintiff, defendant, and their lawyers review the issues involved in the case. This way the judge can see where there are points of agreement and contention, and determine how the case should progress. 
  5. After the case management conference, in accordance with applicable rules, the judge will enter a case management order specifying a discovery schedule and trial date. 
  6. The discovery phase comes next. This is the point at which the parties share all relevant information about different aspects of the case. 
  7. If contested matters are not solved through mediation (see below), the case goes to trial. At trial, the plaintiff and defendant will present their arguments and possibly call witnesses to testify regarding disputed matters. 
  8. After hearing all of the evidence, the judge will rule on contested points and issue a final Judgment of Divorce. Any appeal of that decision must be lodged in 45 days.

How Long Does Each Step Take?

In general, there are specified deadlines for completion of each step noted above. For example:

  • The plaintiff has 10 days from the date they receive a copy of the filed complaint to have it and the summons delivered to his or her spouse.
  • The defendant then has 35 days to file a response. 
  • As stipulated in New Jersey Court Rule 5:5, a case management conference is held 30 days after “the expiration of the time for the last permissible responsive pleading.” 
  • The discovery process must be completed within 90 to 120 days after the complaint is filed. 
  • Appearances at Early Settlement Programs and Intensive Settlement Conferences are scheduled through the courts.  

Factors That Affect How Long a Divorce Takes in NJ

There are several factors that can affect how long a divorce takes in New Jersey. These include:

  • Whether the grounds for the divorce are considered “fault” or “no fault”
  • Whether the terms of the divorce are contested or uncontested 
  • The number and complexity of disputed issues
  • The court’s caseload

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce

In New Jersey, divorce is legally classified as being filed on either “fault,” or “no-fault” grounds, depending on the reason someone gives for pursuing the divorce. 

As the name suggests, a fault-based divorce is one in which the person seeking the divorce claims their spouse caused the marriage to fall apart by doing something wrong. Grounds for a fault divorce in New Jersey include:

  • Adultery
  • Deviant Sexual Conduct
  • Desertion
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Voluntary substance or alcohol misuse

A divorce based on irreconcilable differences or separation is considered a “no-fault” divorce. A no-fault divorce is less time-consuming and expensive because, unlike in a fault-based divorce, the spouses don’t need to prove that the other spouse did something wrong. They only need to prove that they have differences that cannot be reconciled.

Filing a fault-based divorce will typically lengthen the process for two reasons:

  • There are “waiting periods” (ranging from three months to two years) before someone can file for divorce based on most fault grounds. 
  • A person citing fault-based reasons for divorce must prove in court that (1) their spouse engaged in alleged conduct, and (2) the marriage fell apart due to this conduct.

Contested vs. Uncontested

Contested and uncontested divorces are established by whether spouses agree on the terms of the divorce. Contested divorces could have been established based on fault or no-fault grounds, but uncontested divorces are generally established on no-fault grounds because parties agree to not assign blame from the beginning. 

In an uncontested divorce, both parties submit a settlement agreement to the court after agreeing on all terms of the divorce, such as child support, child custody, and the division of assets.

In a contested divorce, spouses are unable to agree on one or more issues in the divorce, such as child support, child custody, alimony, or asset division. Contested divorces take longer because there are issues that have to be resolved through further negotiation and litigation. 

Number and Complexity of Disputed Issues

The number and complexity of disputed issues also will affect how long it takes to get divorced in New Jersey. 

For example, a case in which the parties have a simple disagreement over the allocation of assets and debts can usually be resolved more quickly than one with multiple disputes in play. Because of the emotions involved, cases involving disagreements over child custody, visitation, or support may also be harder to resolve quickly.

The Court’s Caseload

Finally, the court’s caseload has an impact as well. If the court has a minimal workload, paperwork can be handled quickly, allowing the process to progress smoothly. If the court has a significant workload, paperwork won’t be handled as quickly, and the whole process will be slower.

The Role of Mediation in Speeding Up the Divorce Process

In contested divorce matters, New Jersey courts require participation in the Early Settlement Program (ESP) before going to trial. Facilitated by professional settlement coordinators, the program provides mediation between both parties to try and reach an agreement on the conditions of their divorce. Failure to attend a court-ordered ESP could result in the case being dismissed or the party who didn’t show having to pay for the other party’s legal fees. If the parties agree to the coordinators’ recommendations, they can get divorced without going to trial. If issues remain unresolved, an Intensive Settlement Conference follows.

If issues are still unresolved, New Jersey Court Rule 5:5-6 stipulates that the court will then enter an order for mediation “or other post-ESP Complementary Dispute Resolution (“CDR”) event.” Parties are allowed to choose a mediator from the statewide approved list of mediators, or someone else if they prefer. During mediation, a mediator will guide the parties through the process of negotiating and reaching agreements on the terms of their divorce.

Successful resolution of disputed points in mediation allows a couple to finalize their divorce without going to trial. This will inevitably save time, money, and the heartache that arises when a divorce is hostile or adverse. 

How Can an Attorney Assist in the Divorce Process?

There are several benefits to hiring an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer.

Understanding of New Jersey Law 

First of all, an attorney understands the nuances of New Jersey divorce laws – including the legal grounds for divorce – and how to craft a strategy accordingly.  Secondly, a divorce lawyer can make sure that essential documents are filed properly and on time. This means that his or her client doesn’t have to worry about these details.

Representation During Mediation and Litigation

Attorneys facilitate effective mediation by familiarizing their clients with the process beforehand so they know what to expect. They also represent their clients during mediation to ensure that their interests and concerns are heard. In addition, they draft agreements reached through mediation for presentation to the court. If the divorce goes to court, an experienced attorney will understand how to properly represent and argue for the best interests of their client.

Emotional Support and Guidance

At times when emotions tend to surge, a divorce attorney may serve as a valuable source of emotional support and guidance. By explaining each step of the process, he or she can ensure that a client feels empowered to make informed decisions as necessary. This may also give the client much-needed peace of mind.

Get a Free Divorce Consultation Today

When considering divorce, it is not unusual to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and alone. The divorce lawyers here at Rosenblum Law understand and are ready to help. We have years of experience handling all types of divorce cases, and we will ensure that your interests are protected.Take the first step by contacting us for a free consultation so we can discuss your unique circumstances and the best approach for you.


How long does an uncontested divorce take in NJ?

An uncontested divorce can take a few months in New Jersey. If both parties agree on everything and the judge just needs to sign off on the divorce decree, an uncontested divorce takes just long enough to file and serve the paperwork, get a court date, and have a hearing.

What is the waiting period for a divorce in NJ?

There is no waiting period for a divorce in New Jersey. The divorce is final once the judge signs the divorce decree. Either former spouse can remarry right away.

Does the reason for the divorce affect how long it takes in NJ?

The reason for the divorce does not affect how long it takes in New Jersey. The only factors that affect how long it takes are whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, and the length of time required to reach an agreement on all pertinent issues.

Can the divorce process be expedited in NJ?

The divorce process can be expedited if there are no children and the parties agree on property and asset division and other matters.

What factors can extend the duration of a divorce in NJ?

When the parties do not agree on financial matters, matters involving children, and/or other key issues, this will extend the duration of a divorce in New Jersey. Negotiation, mediation, and perhaps litigation will be required before a judge issues a final divorce decree.

How does the court backlog affect divorce timing in NJ?

The New Jersey Monthly reported in December 2023 that there were more than 9,000 backlogged divorce cases in New Jersey. This can increase the time required for a divorce, especially a contested one. Alternative means of resolution such as negotiation and mediation can help couples come to agreement so they can be placed on the uncontested docket, which moves much more quickly.

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A woman signing divorce papers.
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