The divorce process is started by filing a complaint, which states the parties, the disputed issues, and the requested relief. The filing party is called the plaintiff. The case is then assigned a docket number by the court and the complaint is served on the defendant. The defendant will be given the opportunity to file a responsive pleading to the plaintiff’s complaint. Within twenty days of the responsive pleading, both parties must file a Case Information Statement (“CIS”), setting forth earned and unearned incomes, expenses, assets and debts. While the parties will obtain additional information about the finances through the discovery process, the CIS is an important document that attorneys, mediators and the Family Part Judges will rely on to evaluate settlement, argue motions and/or render a final decision after trial.
The discovery process may include Interrogatories (questions answered on paper), depositions (questions answered orally while under oath at risk of perjury), and the exchange of relevant documentation. Relevant documentation is exchanged through a Notice to Produce and may include: bank statements, titles to real and personal property, retirement account statements, credit card bills, and the like. Parties may also find it necessary to work with financial experts, such as real estate or pension appraisers, or forensic accountants, to determine the value of assets such as property, businesses, retirement plans, cash flow and the marital lifestyle.
If custody is an issue in the divorce, the parties will be required to attend parent education classes and custody/parenting time mediation at the courthouse. If custody remains in dispute, the parties may retain a joint or independent mental health professional to perform an evaluation and render a report recommending the parenting arrangement that is in the best interests of the children.
Court appearances may include Case Management Conferences (“CMC”), where the Family Part Judge assigned to your case will establish the issues in dispute, set deadlines for discovery and make certain that the case is moving toward a settlement or alternatively, trial. Family Law Matters that do not settle after the first CMC will eventually go before an Early Settlement Panel (“ESP”), comprised of one or two neutral attorneys who are well versed in Family Law and, who will provide the parties with a recommendation for settlement. The recommendation is confidential and non-binding to the parties. The parties may elect or be ordered to attend economic mediation with a retired judge or licensed attorney. Mediation is also confidential and non-binding on the parties. In the event that financial or custodial issues arise that require the Trial Court’s immediate attention, counsel for the parties may file an application with the court for relief pending the outcome of a trial. This application is called a Notice of Motion, or if it is an issue that may pose irreparable harm, the application may be filed on an emergent basis as an Order to Show Cause.
The overwhelming majority of matrimonial cases do in fact settle before trial, typically through the use of complimentary dispute resolution processes like mediation and arbitration. Once the settlement is reached, both parties will briefly appear in court for an uncontested divorce hearing. If both parties cannot agree upon a settlement, a pre-trial conference and trial date are scheduled. There is also a possibility for trials to be held on only a limited number of issues, if some but not all of the issues are resolved by agreement.
The family law attorneys of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer are skilled and experienced at negotiating an amicable settlement, but practiced in litigation if your matter is litigated at Trial. They are also sensitive to the needs of their clients and understand that every case is unique and must be approached individually. The Wilentz Family Law Department works closely with its clients to achieve their particular goals in resolving all issues concerning children, alimony, child support and equitable distribution of property. The experience and knowledge that the family law attorneys of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer have in divorce law and its real life implications on clients allows them to expertly guide their clients through the legal process.