Can You Get a Divorce Now in Our NJ Courts “During/Post-Covid”?

The majority of cases are proceeding in the same fashion as pre-COVID. 98-99% of cases are settled. An extremely small percentage are tried. It is true that the delay until you can get a trial in Court is longer now than pre-COVID; however, there are options that ultimately might be more cost effective.

Most cases proceed as follows:

1. The parties retain lawyers. A complaint for divorce is filed formally ending the marriage. It can be done using irreconcilable differences as the cause of action. Two important reasons to file the Complaint:

a. To clearly establish a cut-off date to value assets or liabilities; and

b. To analyze the income of the parties as of that date and before to move the process forward with a series of deadlines if one of the parties is having difficulty with “forward movement” towards the “end game”.

2. Filing the Complaint, for many, is a tremendously emotional and frightening event. People believe that they want to avoid Court at all costs. One has to file documents (Complaint) in the Court system to get a divorce just like you need papers to get married. What people should try and avoid at all costs is excessive litigation due to unreasonable disagreements over issues or non-compliance with responsibilities. If people work cooperatively, (even if they dislike each other), with the assistance of competent counsel and mediators, they can resolve issues within the parameters of the law without any litigation or substantive input from a Judge. That is the goal. When people cannot agree or are obstructive or violate agreements, that is when litigation occurs and a Judge has to make a decision and fees go up. These types of decisions by the Court are decided prior to trial with Motions or Orders to Show Cause. Examples are: if someone refuses to pay reasonable support; someone improperly moves money out of aaccounts or there are significant parenting/custody issues. These are typical. These issues are heard by the Court typically within 24 days of filing the papers in New Jersey. Some Judges are very backlogged from COVID. Truthfully, most are generally on time now with their decisions helping to move cases forward.

3. Many cases today and pre-COVID are resolved with the assistance of competent counsel and mediators. Tanya Helfand, Esq. mediates cases privately and through Court-appointment. She and her associates also litigate when necessary. In mediation, parties exchange pertinent information and are guided towards resolution without the direct input or opinions of a Judge. If parties can come to an agreement in writing based on a mediation/negotiation with competent counsel, then this agreement is simply filed with the Court with other basic documents; i.e., Judgment of Divorce and signed Agreement and the final divorce can be scheduled. Most final divorces are still on Zoom. Some are “on the papers”. The final sealed judgment of divorce is received after the Judge has either heard the testimony or reviewed the Certification. The Judge does not review the terms of a voluntary agreement, but questions the parties to confirm that the agreement was voluntary and not the product of duress or undue influence.

4. A divorce can be pretty straightforward and take only a few months even in these trying times. If people fight, it is a process until resolution. This was true before COVID as well. We have been successful with regard to cases that must go to trial. Nowadays, we often consider arbitration, paying a “private Judge”. It can be done far more quickly than most Courts can hear the case. Is it better to wait a year or two for a free Judge and still take days/weeks for a trial? Or alternatively, pay an arbitrator to hear the case in a month or two, get a decision, and move forward. If the fees are available for a trial and there is no chance to settle, it is a good possibility that arbitration makes sense also.

5. Bottom line, if you need to get out of a very toxic marriage for yourself and your children, do not be afraid to move forward. You will get a divorce.

Please give Helfand & Associates a call at 973-428-0800. We offer a free half hour consultation to discuss your options.