What is an uncontested divorce and how long does it take to get one?
An uncontested divorce is a divorce where the parties have amicably resolved all outstanding issues between them, such as alimony, child custody and support, and equitable distribution. A contested divorce, by contrast, is a divorce where these issues have not been settled. As very few divorce cases in New Jersey actually proceed to trial, most contested divorce cases will ultimately become uncontested at some point in the process prior to trial. A divorce which is uncontested from the start can usually be finalized within 90 days in Middlesex and Monmouth Counties. In contrast, uncontested divorce cases in Essex County can sometimes take several weeks longer due to case volume and a lack of Family Court judges presently assigned in that county.
What is the process for obtaining an uncontested divorce?
Quite frequently, a potential client will contact a divorce lawyer and advise the lawyer that all issues with his or her spouse have already been agreed to. In that case, the lawyer will draft a comprehensive Property Settlement Agreement which incorporates all terms agreed to between the parties and forward it to the other spouse for review and signature. Clients should keep in mind that the lawyer drafting the Agreement cannot represent both parties and is acting only as the lawyer for the party which actually retained him or her.
Assuming that the adverse party signs the Agreement (in front of a Notary to avoid any potential fraud or forgery claim) and returns it to the lawyer, the lawyer will then proceed to draft and file a Complaint for Divorce. Once the lawyer receives the filed Complaint for Divorce from the Court, the lawyer will then forward a copy to the opposing party, along with a Summons, Acknowledgment of Service, and a Waiver of Time to Answer.
If the case is uncontested, there would be no reason for the opposing party to file an Answer or Counterclaim for Divorce. The opposing party would instead sign the Acknowledgment of Service, indicating receipt of the filed Complaint for Divorce, as well as the Waiver of Time to Answer, meaning that party does not intend to file an Answer to the Complaint and has no objection to the moving party immediately filing for Default.
How do I obtain a Court date to finalize my uncontested divorce?
The lawyer will draft a document called a Request to Enter Default, wherein the lawyer will indicate that the opposing party has received the Complaint for Divorce. Attached to the Request to Enter Default will be the signed Acknowledgment of Service and Waiver of Time to Answer. The lawyer will also have the moving party sign an Affidavit of Non-Military Service verifying that the spouse is not presently on active military duty. Once the Court receives and processes these documents, a Court date will be scheduled. In most cases that are truly uncontested from the start, only the moving party appears (with his or her attorney) on the Court date, although both parties are entitled to attend.
What happens when I appear before the Judge?
The Judge will conduct a brief hearing in two parts. In the first part, your attorney will ask you several questions to establish, among other things, your residency in the State of New Jersey and the appropriate venue for your divorce matter, whether or not any children were born of the marriage, and the grounds for your divorce. If you are asking to resume your maiden name, your attorney will also ask you a series of questions regarding the name change at this point in the hearing.
In the second part, your attorney will ask you another series of questions regarding your Property Settlement Agreement, in order to establish to the satisfaction of the Court that you understand what you have signed, that you have signed the Agreement voluntarily and free of duress, and that you understand that the Court is not making any independent findings as to the fairness of the Agreement. Once your attorney has finished with this series of questions, the Court will enter its findings on the record and formally grant you your divorce.
What documentation will I receive to confirm that I am divorced?
The Family Court Judge hearing your matter will sign a Final Judgment of Divorce prepared by your attorney. This document is “proof” that you are now divorced. If you have asked to resume your maiden name, the Final Judgment of Divorce will also include your name change. If you would like to receive a “gold seal” copy of your Final Judgment of Divorce, meaning a certified copy, (this is a necessity if you have opted for a name change, since Motor Vehicles will require it in order to change your name on your drivers’ license), you will need to pay a $25.00 filing fee to the Court. The gold seal is not a necessity if you have not changed your name and your Final Judgment of Divorce is still valid without it.