In contrast with many other states, New Jersey family law does not recognize the intermediate legal status of “separation.” In New Jersey, you’re either married or you’re not (although the state does offer divorce from bed and board, which is similar in some ways). 

That doesn’t mean, however, that physically separating from your spouse (moving out) won’t have important legal ramifications. It probably will, especially if you have children from the marriage. There might be child support, child custody, alimony, and/or property division issues to contend with. Below are some mistakes you need to avoid.

Mistake #1: Misunderstanding New Jersey’s Grounds for Divorce

Are New Jersey divorces fault-based or no-fault? Actually, the state offers both kinds of divorce. New Jersey offers seven fault-based grounds for divorce and two no-fault grounds for divorce. New Jersey’s fault-based grounds for divorce are:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Separation
  • Voluntary addiction or habitual drunkenness
  • Imprisonment
  • Deviant sexual conduct

New Jersey also offers two no-fault bases for divorce-–irreconcilable differences persisting for at least 6 months and 18 months of separation. Most divorcing couples opt for irreconcilable differences because it’s the easiest and the quickest way to divorce in New Jersey. 

If you don’t understand New Jersey’s grounds for divorce, you might try to use, for example, adultery. Even if it’s true, you will have to prove it. This will cost time and money, and it could create unnecessary enmity. 

Another example would be relying on 18 months of separation when you could have simply alleged irreconcilable differences and 6 months of separation. You can divorce in New Jersey even if one spouse opposes the divorce.

Mistake #2: Getting Careless or Dishonest About Financial Disclosure

Since New Jersey does not include ‘separation’ as a formal legal status, if you have no children, you don’t necessarily have to inform the court of your separation. The court doesn’t even have to know about it. It’s likely, however, that a court will get involved sooner or later. A court will intervene to protect the best interests of the child, for example. A court will also intervene if a dispute arises about property division.

Many people believe that “A court will divide all assets 50/50.” That is not necessarily true. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, not a community property state. Equitable means fair, not necessarily equal. 

You need to clearly divide assets in a written separation agreement to avoid potential disputes. You could get into trouble and perhaps even face criminal charges if you fraudulently conceal assets from your spouse, especially if they are marital property. 

Involve a lawyer and an accountant if you need to.

Mistake #3: Skipping Mediation

You might be separating in preparation for divorce (to get your 6 months of separation so that you can divorce based on ‘irreconcilable differences,’ for example). In that case, both spouses might benefit from mediation, which New Jersey strongly encourages. 

A third-party mediator can help you smooth over differences and reach a settlement that both spouses can live with. In this way, mediation can save you a lot of money on legal fees. 

An amicable split, rather than a split imposed by a judge, can dramatically reduce the likelihood of disputes later.

Mistake #4: Thoughtlessly Drafting Your Custody and Parenting Plan

If you’re separating and you have children from the marriage, a New Jersey family court will require you to submit an acceptable custody and parenting plan. You need to be careful about how you draft and execute this plan – ideally, you’d have an attorney help you with it.

A family court judge can reject your custody and parenting plans even if both divorcing spouses agree on the terms. This is because “the best interests of the child” is the legal principle that governs the decision-making process, not the best interests of either parent.

Mistake #5: Neglecting the Psychological Aspects of Separation

A marital separation can be, and typically is, a traumatic event that dredges up many unpleasant emotions. Maybe you can handle it, and maybe your spouse can too. Odds are, however, the more contentious your split, the greater the toll on your emotional well-being. 

That is doubly true for your children, especially if they are young. Do your best to keep your separation as amicable as possible.

An Experienced New Jersey Family Lawyer Can Help You Avoid All of These Mistakes and Many More

The mistakes listed above are just the beginning of the kinds of errors you might make. Making a critical error is particularly likely if you don’t understand New Jersey family law or fail to consult with a family lawyer. Seek the advice of an experienced Bergen County family lawyer before you separate, not after. 

Contact the Bergen County Family and Divorce Law Firm of Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers for more help

Contact the experienced family attorneys at Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers today for legal assistance. Visit our law office in Bergen County or give us a call at (201) 487-1199 to schedule a free consultation with our team.

Bergen County Law Office
1 University Plaza Dr #400, Hackensack, NJ 07601, United States