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Home Page > Family and Relationships > Divorce > Divorce in New Jersey: A Self-Help Guide

E. Chapter 3 - After Serving the Divorce Complaint

 

What happens next in your case will depend on whether the defendant answers your complaint. We told you to mark on your calendar both the date the defendant was served and 35 days after that date (See Personal Service on a New Jersey Resident: Time Limits). Usually, the defendant’s answer is due 35 days after service. However, if the defendant was served by substituted service or by publication, the court may have given the defendant a longer time period to answer.

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Time Frames for the Defendant

If the defendant wants to contest your claims or participate in this case, the defendant must answer the complaint as follows:

  • If the complaint was personally served by the sheriff. The defendant must file an answer or enter an appearance within 35 days of receiving the complaint.
  • If the defendant or his or her attorney signed an acknowledgment of service. The defendant must file an answer or enter an appearance within 35 days of signing the acknowledgment of service.
  • If the defendant was served by substituted service or by publication. The defendant has to answer or enter an appearance by the date specified on the order permitting either substituted service or publication.

The defendant may ask for an extension of time so that he or she may file an answer. See Consent Order Extending Time to Answer (Form 13). You may consent to giving the defendant up to a 60-day extension of time to answer, but you may not agree to extend the time beyond 60 days without permission of the court. You and the defendant must both sign a consent order if you agree to an extension. The defendant must file the consent order with the court before the time to answer the complaint is up. See Filing Letter to Court—Consent Order Extending Time to Answer (Form 13A). If you do not agree, or if the defendant wants to get an extension beyond 60 days, the defendant will have to apply to the court for permission.

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Defendant Does Not Respond to the Complaint

If the defendant does not answer the complaint or obtain an extension of time to answer the complaint, you can ask the court for what is called a default judgment in your case. If this is your situation, go directly to Chapter 4: Getting a Default Judgment. There are still papers to prepare and a few things that you will have to do, but the good news is that, at this point, you are very close to getting your divorce.

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Defendant Responds to the Complaint—Forms for Defendants

Defendant’s Appearance

Sometimes a defendant, in response to receiving a complaint for divorce, will enter a general appearance. If this happens, the plaintiff may receive a document called a general appearance or an acknowledgment of service. (See Service by Mail on a Cooperative Defendant.) When the defendant files one of these documents, it puts you and the court on notice that the defendant is not contesting the allegations of the divorce and is not requesting a divorce, but is reserving the right to contest some or all of the relief that you asked for, such as child support, spousal support, child custody, parenting time/visitation, and equitable distribution. The defendant can also contest the relief in a counterclaim filed with an answer. (See below.)

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Defendant’s Answer

In his or her answer, the defendant admits the claims that are true and denies those claims that are false. If the defendant wants to file allegations against you, he or she must do this when answering the complaint. The defendant’s claims against you are written in what is called a counterclaim for divorce, which is filed with the answer. Sometimes a defendant will file only an answer without a counterclaim. In this manual, we do not provide a form for an answer without a counterclaim. If the defendant files only an answer without a counterclaim within 35 days, there is nothing else that you must file. For an explanation of what to do in this situation, go directly to Chapter 5: Going to Court When the Defendant Is Not in Default—Contested and Uncontested Cases.

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Defendant’s Counterclaim

If the defendant decides to file a counterclaim, he or she will file a form that is similar in format to a complaint, except that it is filed from the point of view of the defendant and offers his or her reasons for divorce. The defendant can base his or her counterclaim on the same grounds for divorce or on different grounds. The defendant may set forth any requests for relief he or she wants to make, including custody, support, name change, tort claims, and division of property and debt. See the items below:

  • Filing fee. (Call the court clerk for filing fee information.)
  • Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution Based on Separation and Attached Certification (Form 14A).
  • Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution Based on Desertion and Attached Certification (Form 14B).
  • Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution Based on Extreme Cruelty and Attached Certification (Form 14C).
  • Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution Based on Irreconcilable Differences and Attached Certification (Form 14D).

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Other Documents to Be Filed by Defendant With the Answer and Counterclaim

Make four copies of every document you prepare. Send the original and two copies to the court and keep the extra two copies for your records and for later use. The docket number on the complaint must appear on all of the documents that you file in the case.

Always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (an envelope that has both postage and your name and address on it) with any documents that you send to the court so that the court can send you back a copy marked “filed.” You should do this even if you hand-deliver your papers to the court. You may need to know the date on which the court received something. The filed document will have the date, time, and location of the filing on it.

There are other documents that must be filed with an answer and counterclaim. They are explained in detail below. Please look at the forms as you read the instructions.

Other forms the defendant must file with the answer and counterclaim include:

  • Filing Letter to Court—Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution (Form 14E). Your filing letter tells the court what you are sending and requests a filed copy of the answer and counterclaim. The filing letter also indicates whether you are paying the filing fee or seeking a fee waiver (which will only be given if you truly cannot afford the filing fee). Make sure to check off all appropriate boxes.

  • Certification of Verification and Non-Collusion (attached to the answer and counterclaim). This is a sworn statement that appears at the end of your answer and counterclaim (Form 14A, 14B, 14C, or 14D). It lets the court know that:
    • All of the claims and facts in the answer and counterclaim are true.
    • There is no other divorce action, or any other legal matter involving you or your spouse, presently filed in any court or arbitration proceeding. (If there is some other legal matter involving you and your spouse, you must let the court know what it is.)
    • There are no other people who should be included in this divorce.
      You have a continuing duty to update this information if it changes during the time that the divorce is pending in court. If the information is untrue or is not updated, the court may dismiss your answer and counterclaim.

  • Certification of Insurance (Form 2). This is a separate form that must be attached to your answer and counterclaim. It lists all known insurance coverage for you, your spouse, and your minor children. This includes life, health, automobile, and homeowners insurance. Any insurance coverage identified in the certification of insurance at the time the answer and counterclaim is filed must be maintained until the court orders otherwise. If you do not file this document with your answer and counterclaim, the clerk may refuse to file your answer and counterclaim.

  • Certification of Notification of Complementary Dispute Resolution Alternatives (Form 2B). This is another form that must be attached to your answer and counterclaim. It states that you have been informed about dispute resolution alternatives that you may use to settle your case. Before you sign this document, you must read the information contained in the Explanation of Dispute Resolution Alternatives (Form 2A).

  • Family Part Case Information Statement (CIS) (Form 3A). This must be filed with your answer and counterclaim if there is an issue of custody, support, alimony, or division of property and debt (equitable distribution). Even if you are not seeking these types of relief, the court may require you to complete a CIS. The CIS asks for detailed information about the financial circumstances, income, and assets of each party. The financial papers you gathered during your planning will help you give accurate information to the court about your financial circumstances. You will also have to photocopy and attach some financial documents to this form, such as tax returns and pay stubs. See the instructions on this form. It is important that this information be accurate and true.

  • Confidential Litigant Information Sheet (CLIS) (Form 3B). If you are requesting alimony or child support as relief, the court requires you to fill out and file this form at the same time that you file your answer and counterclaim. The purpose of the CLIS is to provide the court with relevant updated personal information to be used only for the purposes of establishing and modifying and enforcing orders for child support or spousal support. This form will be used to update the official state computer system with information to assist the court in contacting you when necessary. The CLIS is a confidential document. This means that the information in the CLIS may not be shared with any member of the public. For that reason, it should not be attached to the complaint or any other document filed with the court. This is because, once a complaint or other document is filed with the court, it is considered to be a public record and is accessible by any member of the public.

    Note to victims of domestic violence: To ensure your safety, if you are hiding from your spouse, you should consider obtaining an alternative address through the New Jersey Address Confidentiality Program.

  • Request for Waiver of Fees and Supporting Certification (Form 4) and Order Waiving Fees (Form 5). If you cannot afford the filing fees, file Forms 4 and 5 to get permission from the court to waive the fees. (This is explained under Filing Fee/Fee Waiver.) If you can afford the fees for filing and, if you and your spouse have children, for the Parents’ Education Program, you will simply pay the fees by check when you file your papers. Call the court clerk to find out the amount of these fees. (See the New Jersey Courts website for the phone numbers of court clerks.)

  • A self-addressed, stamped envelope. On the front of your package to the court, enclose an envelope containing postage and your name and address so the court can return a filed copy of the papers to you. It is very important that you have copies of your documents marked “filed.” You will need them for your records and for later use. The court will  not send you these filed copies unless you provide the self-addressed, stamped envelope.

  • Certification of Service (Form 16). This is filed with the answer or answer and counterclaim instead of a summons to prove to the court that you have properly served this document on the other party.

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How to Answer the Defendant’s Counterclaim— Forms for Plaintiffs

You answer the defendant’s counterclaim by filing an Answer to Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution (Form 15A). In this document, you admit or deny the allegations that the defendant made in his or her counterclaim against you. You must admit or deny every allegation in the counterclaim. Our form indicates where you add the word “admit” or “deny” and provides space to answer a counterclaim that contains as many as four counts or grounds for divorce. The Certification of Service (Form 16) is filed with the Answer to Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution (Form 15A) to prove that you have properly served this document on the other party. You must send your Answer to Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution (Form 15A) and Certification of Service (Form 16) to the defendant and to the court as follows:

  • To the defendant or his or her attorney:
    • If the defendant has an attorney, send by regular mail to the attorney.
    • If the defendant is pro se (representing him- or herself), mail to the defendant by both regular and certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • To the court for filing, use:
    • Answer to Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution (Form 15A) and Certification of Service (Form 16)
    • Filing Letter to Court—Answer to Counterclaim for Divorce/Dissolution (Form 15B)
    • A self-addressed, stamped envelope so that the court will return a filed copy to you.

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