Initiating Your Divorce Case / The Complaint for Divorce
So long as either you or your spouse have been bona fide residents of New Jersey for at least one year prior to the commencement of your divorce matter, New Jersey would have jurisdiction to grant a divorce. It is important to note that there is no requirement that either party actually be a resident of the State at the time the divorce is actually granted. Thus, a party who has filed for divorce from a spouse who is not living in New Jersey can also leave the State of New Jersey after her case is filed and still be entitled to receive a divorce.
This one year residency requirement does not apply in those cases where the moving party is seeking a divorce on the grounds of adultery. However, since adultery must be proven to the Court (not always as easy as it might appear), a party who has not been a resident of New Jersey for at least one year seeking to purse a divorce on adultery grounds would be well-advised to speak with an attorney about the relative merits of his or her case and the strength of the proofs relative to adultery.Preparing the Complaint for Divorce
In order to start your divorce case, the first form (“pleading” in legal jargon) to be filed with the Court is called the Complaint for Divorce. You, as the moving party, are known as the “Plaintiff.” The party to be served is known as the “Defendant.”
The Complaint for Divorce will set down, in separate numbered paragraph format, some very basic information about your case, such as the names and addresses (if known) of both parties, the date and location of the marriage, whether the marriage ceremony was religious or civil, the names and dates of birth of any children born of the marriage, and a recitation of any previous Court proceedings between the parties, such as domestic violence, child support, or child custody proceedings. The Complaint must also recite the grounds for jurisdiction- that either the moving party or the party to be served with the Complaint has been a resident of New Jersey for at least one year. (Again, as discussed above, this would not be necessary in the case of adultery.)
The Complaint for Divorce will also set forth either one or more causes of action for divorce, such as irreconcilable differences, extreme cruelty, adultery, or 18 months of separation. For example, if a moving party (the “Plaintiff”) is seeking a divorce on the grounds of six months of irreconcilable difference, the cause of action paragraph might read as follows:
“The parties have experienced irreconcilable differences which have caused the breakdown of the marriage for a period of six months and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved. There is no reasonable prospect for reconciliation.”
Note that there is no need to elaborate or provide specific details to the Court as to what those irreconcilable differences were. This differs from extreme cruelty, wherein the Complaint must allege with more specificity exactly what types of conduct or incidents took place which would qualify as extreme cruelty.
The Complaint will contain a “Wherefore” section wherein the moving party will indicate in very broad, bullet point terms, the type of relief sought, such as a dissolution of the marriage, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, child custody, counsel fees, and a request to resume a maiden name if applicable. As to custody, the Plaintiff might indicate that she is seeking joint legal custody of the children, as well as primary physical custody, with liberal and reasonable parenting time to be granted to the Defendant.
Note that the moving party, in this document, does not need to specify a specific dollar amount of child support or alimony sought, nor does it need to contain specifics as to the various assets and liabilities to be distributed or a proposal for distribution. Logically, this makes sense, since at the time of the commencement of the divorce action, one party may not have access to financial records or knowledge of the other party’s salary and other earnings.
The Complaint will also contain a Certification pursuant to Court Rule 4:5-1(b)(2), representing that the divorce matter is not the subject of any other action pending in any other court or of a pending arbitration proceeding, and that no other action or arbitration proceeding is contemplated, and that the moving party (or their attorney) is not aware of any other person who should be joined in the divorce matter. This Certification is made in furtherance of what in New Jersey is known as the “entire controversy doctrine,” which is of limited or no relevance in most matrimonial matters.
Finally, the Complaint will contain a Certification of Verification and Non-Collusion signed by the Plaintiff, who will certify to the truthfulness of the contents of the Complaint for Divorce.Additional Forms and Certifications to be Filed with the Complaint for Divorce
1. Certification of Insurance. In this document, the Plaintiff will list all known forms of insurance covering the Plaintiff, Planintiff’s spouse, and the children. Typically, this would include health, auto, and homeowner’s insurance, as well as life and disability insurance. Insurance carriers, policy numbers, policy limits, and policy expiration dates should be included to the extent known or readily available. If any insurance coverage was modified within the proceeding 90 days, that information should be disclosed in the Certification as well. Plaintiff will also certify that she understands that all insurance coverage will be kept intact and not modified or cancelled until further Order of the Court.
2. Court Rule 5:4-2(h) Certification. The Plaintiff will sign a Certification confirming that he or she has read a document regarding Dispute Resolution Alternatives to Conventional Litigation. This document explains mediation, arbitration, collaborative law, and the use of other professionals in a divorce case. If the Plaintiff has an attorney, the attorney will also sign a Certification that the document has been provided to and explained to the client.
3. Confidential Litigant’s Information Sheet. In any divorce case where support is being sought (such as child support or alimony), a Confidential Litigant’s Information Sheet must be filed along with the Complaint for Divorce. In this form, the Plaintiff will provide, among other things, the addresses and contact information for both parties, employment information for both parties, names and dates of birth of any children born during the marriage, make, model, and year of any vehicles operated by the parties, and a physical description of the parties. Any unknown information can be left blank. In theory, the Court, or more typically, the Probation Department, will utilize the information contained in this form to open up an account through which support can be collected and paid.Conclusion
Filing for and proceeding with a divorce can be a complicated matter, particularly where there are minor children involved and assets and liabilities to be divided. A consultation with (and subsequent representation from) an experienced divorce lawyer is often invaluable. Please contact the law office of Jeffrey R. Brown, Esq. to discuss your matter further.