On January 20, 2007, Governor Corzine signed into law a change to the divorce statute. Before that, most divorce complaints were based on either separation (living separate and apart for at least 18 months) or extreme cruelty, which required one spouse to accuse the other of specific acts of cruel behavior. The law now allows for a true no-fault divorce based on either spouse claiming irreconcilable differences. To file a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, the following requirements must be met:
- You or your spouse must have lived in New Jersey for 12 consecutive months before the filing of the divorce complaint.
- You and your spouse must have experienced irreconcilable differences for six months.
- The irreconcilable differences make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved.
- There is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
The irreconcilable differences basis for divorce does not require that one spouse make allegations or accusations against the other.
If you are thinking about filing for divorce, this change in the law may make the process a little smoother. When neither spouse has to blame the other for the divorce, it can reduce the level of conflict in the litigation. Most divorces end with a negotiated settlement rather than a judge resolving the issues after a trial. Setting a more peaceful tone in the divorce complaint may result in a quicker settlement.
It is important to recognize that, in almost all situations, an allegation against a spouse, even when proven by evidence, will not affect the outcome of the divorce. So, claiming that your spouse had an adulterous affair will not improve your chances of receiving more in child support, alimony, or equitable distribution.
If you have already filed for divorce based on extreme cruelty or another basis that requires allegations of bad acts, you may want to ask the court to amend your divorce complaint to base your divorce solely on irreconcilable differences. By doing this, you may be able to withdraw the allegations of bad acts by your spouse. You can only amend your complaint if you have not yet reached a final judgment of divorce. Amending your complaint so that it becomes a no-fault divorce complaint may make it easier to get a negotiated settlement.
Extreme cruelty claim may still be appropriate
Of course, there are times when an extreme cruelty claim for divorce is appropriate—for example, when a couple has a history of domestic violence. The law presumes that the victim of domestic violence is the more appropriate parent to have physical custody of the child or children. For this reason, a plaintiff who has been a victim of domestic violence may want to base his or her complaint for divorce on the defendant’s acts of extreme cruelty.
Divorce in New Jersey: A Self-Help Guide
The new edition of the LSNJ publication, Divorce in New Jersey: A Self-Help Guide, includes new forms for the irreconcilable differences basis for divorce. The guide is available for $25 from Legal Services of New Jersey. If your income is very low, you may be eligible for a free copy. Contact LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529), to determine if you qualify.
This article appeared in the July-August 2007 edition of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.