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How Do I File for Divorce in New Jersey?

A lawyer helping a client file for divorce

Divorce is the legal process in which a marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership is ended. This process, also referred to as “dissolution” in New Jersey, is initiated and conducted through the court system. 

It is important to understand the intricacies of the legal divorce process, because there are a variety of required documents that need to be submitted in the proper format in accordance with local court rules and laws. Also, you must make sure to meet legally required deadlines in submitting documents to the court. 

It is a good idea to consult an attorney before engaging in divorce proceedings. This can save you from making costly mistakes. Experienced family law attorneys at Rosenblum Law can help you navigate the divorce process and make sure your interests are protected.

Steps to File for Divorce in New Jersey

Filing for divorce in New Jersey requires the following steps. 

Establish Residency

At least one member of a married couple needs to be living in New Jersey in order to file for divorce in the state. If both spouses have moved out of the state and are not allowed to file for divorce in their new state, one spouse will have to file in the New Jersey county the couple had been married in.

Establish Grounds

When filing for a divorce, one is required to cite a reason or grounds. The grounds cited in the divorce complaint will determine if the divorce is categorized as “fault” or “no-fault”. A complaint citing “no-fault” or “irreconcilable differences” is considered a no-fault divorce. 

A divorce based on fault is one in which the spouse filing the divorce complaint assigns blame to the other spouse based on specific grounds. These grounds can include, for example:

  • Adultery
  • Willful and continued desertion
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Addiction issues

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is representative of the types of grounds typically cited in a divorce based on fault.

If a spouse decides to file for a fault-based divorce as opposed to a no-fault divorce, it does not necessarily mean they will receive more alimony or a better outcome. Alimony is the financial support a person is ordered by the court to pay to their former spouse. Generally, the court will not take fault into consideration when making decisions about the financial issues of both parties, unless a spouse can be held liable for their former partner’s negative economic situation. 

When deciding between a no-fault divorce and a fault-based divorce, it’s important to know that no-fault divorce cases are typically preferred in New Jersey. An individual only has to establish that they have irreconcilable differences with or are separated from their spouse. An attorney can help an individual decide if they want to proceed with a no-fault or fault-based divorce. 

Prepare to File Divorce Petition

Before filing for a divorce, a spouse must collect relevant documents including financial records, the marriage certificate, real estate deeds, etc. They will also need to decide whether to file for a contested or uncontested divorce.

  • A contested divorce is a dissolution in which the two parties disagree on at least one major issue, such as alimony, property division, or child support. 
  • An uncontested divorce is a dissolution in which both parties agree on all major issues to be addressed in a final divorce settlement agreement. 

An experienced family law attorney can help you prepare to file a divorce case. They can ensure you gather all of the relevant documents, while also helping you decide if a contested or uncontested divorce is the best legal strategy to pursue. 

File Divorce Petition

Once a spouse has made the necessary preparations, he or she will be ready to initiate the divorce process. This means it will be time to file the divorce complaint, otherwise known as the divorce petition. The spouse filing the divorce petition is referred to as the plaintiff, and the other spouse is referred to as the defendant.

The following are the steps required to file a divorce petition in New Jersey:

  1. Find the appropriate forms for filing for divorce. These can be found through the following avenues:
    • Legal Services of New Jersey
    • Superior Court Ombudsmen
    • NJ Courts Self-help Center
  1. File with the court the following documents if applicable to the specific case:
    • Divorce petition
    • Certification of No Pending Proceedings
    • Certification of Verification and Non-collusion
    • Certification of Insurance Coverage
    • Certification Regarding Redaction of Personal Identifiers
    • Certification of Self-represented Litigant and Dispute Resolution Alternatives
  1. Complete a divorce summons. A divorce summons is a legal notice that informs the other party a divorce has been filed against them. However, be sure to not include personal identifiers such as social security numbers on the document that is filed with the court. 
  1. Attach the necessary filing fee or request a fee waiver. The current fee charged for filing is $300. A spouse will need to pay an additional $25 for a parenting workshop if the party is requesting custody or more parenting time.
  1. Check the forms to ensure they have been completed properly. Making mistakes on forms can have significant consequences on a divorce proceeding. 
  1. Sign the forms.
  1. Make at least three copies of each document to be submitted to the court, and keep one copy.
  1. Redact personal identifiers, such as Social Security numbers, on documents to be submitted to the court. One method of doing this is to black out the information that needs to be redacted.
  1. Submit the documents to the court. The petition should be filed at the court in the New Jersey county where the defendant lives. 

Although a spouse is allowed to file the divorce complaint themselves, we suggest consulting an experienced divorce attorney who can ensure the documents are filled out properly and submitted in accordance with local court rules.

Serve Divorce Papers

Once a docket number is received, the plaintiff is required to serve the defendant, which means making sure the defendant receives a copy of the divorce complaint. This must be done within 30 days of filing the divorce complaint with the court. 

The primary method of serving papers on a defendant is through personal service, according to court rules. If the plaintiff does not wish to deliver the papers to their spouse, they can hire a professional process server or have the county sheriff’s office deliver the documents for a fee.

If the defendant’s spouse cannot be physically located through diligent and concerted effort, there are alternative options for service. These include service via mail and service out of state.

Document Service

There are also rules on how to properly document that the plaintiff has legally served the defendant with a divorce petition and summons. Specifically, the plaintiff is required to attach a proof-of-service document, which must be properly filled out with accurate information. 

Failure to provide proof of service can result in the court finding that there was a lack of legitimate service on the defendant. This would mean the plaintiff would have to start over and attempt to properly serve the defendant again.

Responding to a Divorce Petition

If a spouse is served a divorce complaint and summons, they will then have the opportunity to submit a response to the court. Failure to make a proper and timely response can result in the judge granting the divorce and court order with terms favorable to the plaintiff.

A defendant in a divorce must properly respond to a divorce complaint within 35 days of being served. The defendant also must choose between three options for how to respond to the complaint:

  • File an answer: The defendant contests the grounds and allegations stated in the plaintiff’s divorce petition.
  • File an answer and counterclaim: The defendant contests the plaintiff’s allegations and also states his or her own grounds for divorce, as well as potentially making allegations against the plaintiff.
  • File an appearance: The defendant does not contest the plaintiff’s claims but would like to be heard regarding various divorce issues such as child custody, alimony, child support, property division or other issues. 

How the defendant responds to a divorce complaint can greatly affect the final results of the divorce. This is why it is important to hire a divorce attorney who can formulate an effective legal strategy on how best to respond.

Financial Considerations

Divorce is just as much a financial decision as a legal process in New Jersey, as it significantly changes both parties’ financial situation. How the court rules in terms of property division, child support, and alimony will have financial consequences that both parties will be dealing with for years to come.

Equitable Distribution

Property division during divorce in New Jersey is based on the legal concept of equitable distribution. This means that marital assets are divided equitably, which may or may not mean equally. Marital assets are all of the property acquired during a marriage. A party’s contribution, financially and otherwise, to obtaining and maintaining those assets will factor into equitable distribution. 

In determining equitable distribution the court will look at various factors. These include, among others:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The quality of life established during the marriage
  • Income and other assets brought into the marriage by each party

Child Support

Child support in New Jersey is calculated by the court using a formula known as the Income Shares Method. This calculation determines the share of each parent’s contribution to the total combined income of both parents. This, in turn, determines the percentage of financial support the parent is responsible for paying in order to care for the child. 

The court will use the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines to consider specific factors when making a decision about child support. For example, the court will take into account whether or not a parent is a custodial parent and how much time the child lives with that parent. A noncustodial parent will pay their share of support directly to the custodial parent. If there are special circumstances to be considered in the calculation of child support, such as medical needs for a child, the court can deviate from these guidelines if a strong case is made. An attorney can assist in the process of securing child support, or in the process of modifying child support if a parent feels they cannot pay what is expected of them.


Unlike child support, alimony in New Jersey is not determined by a specific formula. Instead, the court will generally look at differences in income between each spouse. This will help the court calculate alimony that preserves, as much as possible, the quality of life achieved during the marriage for both spouses. The court will also look at various other factors when considering alimony, such as: 

  • Duration of the marriage 
  • Earning capacities and educational levels 
  • Assets held by each party 

An attorney can advocate for your financial interests in court by devising a legal strategy that addresses the financial aspects of a divorce. By presenting evidence throughout the litigation process and making arguments in front of the judge, a divorce lawyer can significantly affect the final court order for property division, child support, and alimony.

Custody and Parenting Time

If there are children from the marriage, part of the divorce proceedings include determining the child custody arrangement. This means deciding which parent will be caring for the children during what period of time. 

In New Jersey, the primary standard for the court to determine child custody arrangements is the best interests of the child. The court may order joint custody, meaning the parent’s share responsibilities for the child or children and receive significant in-person time with them. Other options that the court could order are sole custody with one parent or sole custody with partial time with the other parent. New Jersey and many other states have also adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to avoid unnecessary interstate child custody conflicts. An attorney can help a parent make a strong case for child custody during the divorce process.

Parenting Plan

Part of determining the terms of a child custody arrangement is developing a parenting plan. The parenting plan establishes how divorced parents will share child care responsibilities upon dissolution of the marriage. For example, the plan will address a schedule for parenting time, and any other issues related to raising the child or children with both parents involved. 

Divorcing parents can mutually agree to a parenting plan, but the court must still approve the plan to ensure it conforms to the child custody arrangement detailed in the court order. If the  parents are not able to come to an agreement, the court may impose a parenting plan. 

The details of a parenting plan will significantly affect a parent’s daily life post divorce. Therefore, the parties should be careful when negotiating as to how child caring responsibilities will be shared. Consulting with a legal professional can improve chances of the court accepting a parenting plan that is fair for the parties and ensures the best interests of the child. 

Mediation and Settlement

Divorcing couples in New Jersey may try to resolve their differences in mediation in order to avoid a lengthy, contentious, and expensive litigation process. Spouses have the option of entering into mediation at any time before, during, and even after the divorce process. 

In order for the mediation process to be successful, both parties must agree to all the major issues that need to be resolved during a divorce. Among other things, this means agreeing on property division, child custody, child support, visitation rights, and alimony.

The mediator often will be an attorney who specializes in mediating divorce cases. During mediation, the parties may choose to have their personal attorneys present to advise them. Having an attorney who is knowledgeable about divorce laws in New Jersey will enable a spouse to maximize his or her leverage in order to obtain the best deal possible.

However, there are times when mediation is not successful in resolving differences. In these cases, one will need to work with their attorney to prepare to take the divorce case to trial. This will mean gathering the relevant documents, collecting testimonies, and devising a strong legal strategy in order to present one’s case to the court.

Trial and Finalization of Divorce

Leading up to the trial, both parties will be given an opportunity to submit evidence and testimony to the court in order to support their legal arguments. The judge will weigh the evidence and analyze how well the legal arguments of both sides stand up to scrutiny. 

Finally, the judge will make a decision that resolves issues of property division, child support, child custody and alimony which is made official in a final divorce decree.

However, this does not mean that the terms of the divorce can never be changed. A party who is not happy with the court order can make a motion with the court to appeal or modify the terms of the divorce. An attorney can assist in submitting the motion and represent the client in court, arguing in support of the proposed modification.

Filing For Divorce as a Domestic Violence Victim

Divorce can be even more complicated and difficult if someone is a victim of domestic violence. In fact, many times the divorce itself and the angry arguments and disagreements surrounding it may instigate domestic violence. This can create a dangerous situation in which someone may need to take legal action to protect themselves, such as obtaining a restraining order.

If one is planning on filing a criminal report along with applying for a restraining order, the domestic violence victim must go to the police department or municipal court where the incident occurred. The restraining order will prohibit the domestic violence perpetrator from having contact with the victim while also potentially providing other types of relief.

Why Hire a Divorce Attorney?

An attorney with expertise in New Jersey divorce law is a key part of a spouse advocating for his or her rights during a dissolution of a marriage. The filing process for a divorce and the various considerations to be made, such as child support and custody, can make the divorce process daunting, confusing, and time-consuming.  A competent attorney will help a client navigate the complex litigation process.Also, during mediation, an attorney will have the legal knowledge necessary to understand the important points of leverage to fight for favorable terms in the final divorce agreement. 

Additionally, since divorce can be an emotionally trying time, an attorney can provide objective advice on how to proceed during mediation and litigation and prevent their client from making costly mistakes. Having an attorney may also be emotionally supportive by calmly guiding their client  through a contentious legal battle.


What happens if you do not respond to a divorce summons?

Failure to respond to a divorce summons will result in the court only considering the plaintiff’s requests for the terms of the divorce, which means the terms will likely be more favorable to the plaintiff.

Does the defendant have to be served by a certain time?

Yes. The plaintiff must properly serve the defendant the divorce summons within 30 days after filing with the court.

Is it ever too late to enter mediation?

Technically, it is never too late in the divorce process to enter mediation. However, it depends on the willingness of both parties to attempt to come to a settlement agreement.

What if one spouse has moved out of New Jersey?

As long as one spouse is still living in New Jersey, the divorce can be filed in the state.

How long does the process of divorce take in New Jersey?

How long the divorce process takes varies considerably depending on a variety of factors. These include the overall complexity of the case and whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Generally, the divorce process will last anywhere from a few months up to a year or even longer in some instances.

Can you change your last name during the divorce process?

Yes. Any adult can change their last name even while in the middle of a divorce. However, this is not allowed if changing your last name is to be a part of the final divorce settlement.

How is shared debt divided?

Shared debt, just like all other aspects of property division, is equitably divided between divorcing spouses.

If I file for a divorce, can my spouse refuse it?

Your spouse may refuse to respond to your divorce complaint, but your spouse is risking a default judgment in your favor by not answering.

Schedule Your Free Consultation with a Rosenblum Law Attorney

It is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible during the divorce process. This allows the attorney more time to properly craft a strong legal strategy that gives you the best chances of winning a favorable result in the end. 

At Rosenblum, our attorneys have decades of experience handling divorce cases and will strongly advocate for your interests during your divorce proceedings. An attorney from Rosenblum Law will examine every detail of the case to create a legal strategy that suits your needs and desires. Contact us today  for your free consultation.

A lawyer helping a client file for divorce
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