Dissolving a marriage is an emotionally draining process even when both spouses are on board. It may be easier to handle the break in stages, with separation serving as an interim step before moving straight to full-fledged divorce. Many states, such as California, have statutes that provide for legal separation and detail the responsibilities of both spouses and the courts during the process. Unfortunately, New Jersey doesn't make it so easy. While there is no legal separation statute in New Jersey, there are alternatives that allow separating spouses to set out their respective obligations and provide for court enforcement.
Negotiate the terms of separation, such as spousal support and property division. If there are minor children of the marriage, include a parenting plan that specifies residential custody, a visitation schedule and child support. Draw up the terms of this settlement agreement and execute the document as you would any other contract. Approval by a New Jersey court is not necessary, but should either spouse fail to hold up their end of the bargain, the other spouse may sue for breach of contract.
Read More: What Happens After a Legal Separation Is Filed?
File a complaint with the New Jersey Superior Court as an alternative to negotiating a separation agreement. In contrast with a negotiated separation agreement, a complaint is written and filed by one spouse on her own. A complaint is necessary when the spouses cannot agree on the terms of separation. In a complaint, one spouse asks the court to grant her a specific amount of spousal and child support, and award her possession of specific property. If the other spouse disagrees with any of the requests made in the complaint, he files an answer. The answer states which requests are unacceptable. Once the court receives the answer, a hearing is held.
Attend mediation if the court orders it. Mediation is where a licensed mediator acts as intermediary and facilitates further negotiation and, hopefully, ultimate agreement on the contested issues. If an agreement is still out of reach, another hearing is held in which the judge questions each spouse. If the judge has enough information to make a decision, he issues a ruling that decides the issues. If the judge does not have enough information, he may order discovery in the form of financial statements, interrogatories and even depositions. Another hearing is scheduled, at which time the information collected by the discovery process is examined and, if the court deems necessary, testimony is taken. At this time, the court decides the remaining issues for the spouses.
Obtain a formal "Divorce from Bed and Board" as an alternative if you and your spouse agree on the support and property issues and want a permanent resolution to your relationship without formally divorcing. File a joint Petition for Divorce from Bed and Board that sets out your agreement as to support and property division, much like a negotiated separation agreement. A hearing will be held where a judge questions both of you to make sure the divorce from bed and board is what each of you wants. Once satisfied, the court will approve the arrangement.
An attorney for more than 18 years, Jennifer Williams has served the Florida Judiciary as supervising attorney for research and drafting, and as appointed special master. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Jacksonville University, law degree from NSU's Shepard-Broad Law Center and certificates in environmental law and Native American rights from Tulsa University Law.