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 such as bank statements, title to real and personal property, retirement account statements, credit card bills, etc., through a Notice to Produce. Parties may 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 with the divorce lawyer, the parties will be compelled 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 as 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, and if not, that it is prepared for a trial. Family Law Matters that do not settle will eventually go before an Early Settlement Panel (“ESP”) where depending on the County one or two neutral attorneys who are well versed in Family Law 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 a financial or custodial issue arises that requires the Trial Court’s immediate attention, the parties through counsel 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. Ultimately, if the case is not settled, the Court will eventually schedule pre-trial conferences and trial dates.
Mediation and arbitration are alternative methods to the traditional litigation process for settling divorce-related issues within the Family Part. Ask your attorney about the pros and cons of these methods and whether they may be appropriate for you and your spouse. The benefits of mediation and potential risks of mediation are set forth under the “ mediation section” of this website.
Over 98% of family law matters in New Jersey do settle at some point in time. 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 trial is scheduled. Because of the time and expense involved, few cases actually go to trial. However, there may be a more limited trial, or hearing, on a specific issue such as support, if some but not all of the issues are resolved by agreement.