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Family and Relationships

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

B. Introduction

 

Table of contents: 

How to Use This Manual

The suggestions below for using this manual will help you to decide whether you can handle a divorce on your own. If you decide to hire a lawyer, you will be clearer about what you want and more organized, which will save you and your lawyer time. See Getting Legal Advice to review when you should seek legal assistance.

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Read the Manual Carefully

Read the manual and examine the forms. Take notes while you are reading and write down any questions that come to mind. Some of your questions may be answered in this manual. You may want to ask a lawyer other questions. Make sure that you understand the information and the instructions for using the forms. You will find a glossary of legal terms used in this manual.

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Step 1: Gather Information and Records

After you read the manual, gather together all of the documents that you will need to prepare your divorce papers. You will need all or most of the following documents and information for your divorce:

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Any Court Orders (Judgments) or Other Documents Related to the Marriage or Marital Property. For example:

  • Child support orders
  • Custody and parenting time/visitation orders
  • Name change orders
  • Domestic violence restraining orders and papers related to the domestic violence order, such as police or hospital reports
  • Foreclosure orders
  • Bankruptcy orders.

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Financial Information. This includes:

  • Tax returns
  • Pay stubs and other proof of income (SSI, SSD, child support)
  • List of bank accounts and copies of recent bank statements
  • Stocks, bonds, IRAs, and other financial assets
  • List of monthly expenses
  • Documents showing any debts, including credit card statements and loans
  • Copies of monthly bills
  • Leases or deeds to real property
  • Mortgage documents
  • Automobile titles (ownership documents)
  • Automobile loan documents
  • Insurance policies—health, dental, life, automobile, homeowners, or rental
  • Pension plans and retirement accounts
  • Wills
  • Receipts for bills for personal injury caused by your spouse
  • Receipts for bills for property damage caused by your spouse
  • Receipts or other documents demonstrating that you are receiving public benefits, including welfare, rental assistance, or SSI for yourself or your children.

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Other Documents. You may also need copies of:

  • Your marriage certificate
  • Children’s birth certificates
  • Children’s Social Security numbers.

Make copies of these documents, and keep the original documents in a safe place. When you go to court for your divorce hearing, you may need to show the court some of these documents.

You will also need to have the following items as you move along in the divorce process:

  • A calendar for record keeping. This will help you keep track of dates and deadlines.
  • Certified mail forms with return receipt cards. Court rules require that some documents be sent by certified mail with a return receipt. Certified mail is a special mail service that provides proof of mailing at the time of mailing and date of delivery. The return receipt is signed by the person who receives the mail and is sent back to you with information about the actual delivery of the mail. This return receipt will be part of the records proving service (delivery) of documents. We recommend that, as part of your planning, you go to the post office and pick up several certified mail forms and return receipt cards. You should also get information about the cost of sending certified mail with a request for a return receipt so that you can plan for the mailing costs.

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Step 2: Decide What You Want From the Divorce

This is an important step. Think very carefully about what you want to ask for in your divorce. Remember: The law requires you to raise all legal issues that you have against your spouse in your divorce complaint. Before you fill out the complaint forms, you must decide what other relief you want in addition to having the court end your marriage. Looking at the information about finances and property will help you decide what to ask for in your divorce. Below are things that you might ask for in your divorce complaint. They are explained in more detail in Chapter 1: Preparing and Filing the Divorce Complaint.

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Alimony/Spousal Support. Alimony, also called spousal support, is money paid by one spouse to support the other spouse once the marriage has ended. Do you want to ask for alimony? If you are receiving public benefits and then begin to receive alimony, how will this affect your eligibility for those public benefits?

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Division of Real Property. Real property refers to a house, a building, or a parcel of land. If you own your home, how do you want to divide it? Do you want your home sold immediately? Do you want to continue living in the home and, if so, for how long? If you are receiving public benefits, will this affect your eligibility for those public benefits?

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Division of Personal Property. What will you do with personal property—cars, appliances, TV sets, sound equipment, jewelry, expensive tools, furniture, etc.?

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Division of Debts. Who will be responsible for unpaid debts? This includes credit cards, loans, mortgages, car payments, outstanding rent and utility bills, etc.

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Taking Back Your Former Name or Changing Your Name. Would you like to use another name? You may request this relief in your divorce complaint.

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Insurance Policies and Premiums. Do you have your own health insurance? It is likely that your spouse’s health insurance policy will not cover you once you are divorced. Who will pay health, homeowners, or life insurance premiums?

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Money Damages for Personal Injury. Have you been injured by your spouse or someone else? Have you received money for those injuries? If you are receiving public benefits (TANF, GA, EA, Food Stamps, Medicaid, SSI, etc.) and you receive money damages in the form of a personal injury award, how will this affect your eligibility for those public benefits?

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Child Custody. With whom will the children live?

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Parenting Time/Visitation. How often will visits take place? Where? What about holidays and vacations? Is supervised visitation necessary?

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Child Support. If the children are remaining in your custody, how much child support should your spouse pay you? Will you need help with medical or dental expenses for your children? Who will provide health and dental insurance for the children? If you are receiving public benefits and you begin to receive child support, will this affect your eligibility for those public benefits or the amount of benefits that you receive?

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Step 3: Prepare and Review Your Forms

There are different types of divorce claims. You may claim a specific reason or cause for your divorce. Or you may file a no-fault divorce based on the fact that you and your spouse have experienced irreconcilable differences for six months or more, or you have been living separately for at least 18 months with no possibility of getting back together.

Once you know what kind of divorce you want and what kind of relief you want, you are ready to begin filling out the forms in this manual. We suggest that you make at least three copies of the blank forms so that you always have a clean copy to begin again if you make a mistake. You may also complete the forms on a typewriter. If necessary, you may fill them in by hand, but you must print clearly or the court may not accept the forms.

Proofread all of your forms carefully. When you file papers with the court, you are giving your word that your statements are true and accurate. It is against the law to lie to the court. Remember that the law requires you to raise all legal issues that you have against your spouse and to ask for everything you want from your spouse in your divorce complaint. You will not be able to ask the judge at your divorce hearing for anything that you do not ask for in your divorce complaint. You will not be able to bring a future lawsuit for things you do not put in your complaint. So check your complaint carefully before you file it with the court, to make sure that everything you want is contained in the complaint.

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Time Requirements and Deadlines. Use a calendar to keep track of time requirements and deadlines. Pay attention to the deadlines, and always keep your case moving forward. Missing deadlines may cause you serious problems. For example, the court may dismiss your case if you do not serve the defendant (deliver to him or her a copy of your divorce complaint) within a certain time frame or if your reasons for not serving the defendant are not convincing. You must keep written records of all of your efforts to serve the defendant.

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Other Suggestions

Before you file your papers with the court, you may want to see a lawyer for legal advice. (See Important Notes About Using this Manual, and Getting Legal Advice, where we strongly recommend that you talk to a lawyer in certain circumstances. Please refer back to those pages now.)

Once you are satisfied that you understand what you may be entitled to in your divorce and how a divorce may affect any public benefits that you are receiving, you are ready to prepare and file your papers.

The addresses and telephone numbers of each county courthouse where you are required to file your divorce complaint are available on the New Jersey Judiciary’s website.

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