In 2023, New Jersey suspended all divorce and civil trials in the Superior Courts of Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Salem, Somerset, and Warren counties. The reason for the suspensions is simple—there is a shortage of judges in those counties. 

Currently, residents of these counties have trouble obtaining divorces and resolving child custody and child support issues. The suspension has also affected personal injury cases. The shortage of judges extends throughout most of the state of New Jersey to some degree or another. 

The ‘Perfect Storm’ 

In New Jersey, Superior Court judges are not elected officials. Instead, the governor nominates them, and the state Senate confirms them. As of June 2023, New Jersey had appointed only 70% of all available judgeships. This represents a historically high number of judicial vacancies— right at a time when caseloads are peaking. 

Reasons for the Shortage of Judges

The New Jersey family law judge shortage arises from a number of factors, as described below.

The Covid-19 Backlog

The Covid-19 crisis is largely over. Nevertheless, the crisis closed the court system for long periods of time, resulting in a large backlog. Even after the end of the Covid-19 crisis, new family law cases continue to emerge, rendering it difficult for family law courts to clear their backlogs. The longer the backlog, the greater number of judges are needed to clear it. 

The overall backlog exceeded 75,000 cases as of June 2023. Not all of these cases are Covid-related, however, and not all of the backlog represents family law cases. Still, the backlog exerts a tremendous effect on the prompt administration of justice. 

Too Many Retirements and Resignations

In New Jersey, judges must retire at 70 years old—they have no choice. Many in the legal community have suggested raising the mandatory retirement age to 75. Mid-career resignations also exacerbate the shortage. A judge might retire for reasons of personal health, for example, or due to family concerns. Many judges retire in mid-career to return to private practice as lawyers, where the pay is often much better.

Increasing Case Complexity

Family law cases have become more complex over the years, meaning that it takes more judicial resources to resolve a single case. Even if the number of cases does not increase, the time it takes to resolve each case often does.

A Shortage of Qualified Applicants

Not just anyone is qualified to act as a Superior Court judge. These positions require highly specialized training as well as a certain amount of experience in the legal system. Judges must know the law, and they must be of sound mind and character. All of these qualifications dramatically reduce the number of qualified candidates.

Budget Constraints

Family law judges don’t come cheap. Salaries for Superior Court judges run well into six figures, often exceeding $200,000 per year. That figure doesn’t even include benefits. Even the process of nomination and confirmation of a judge costs money. Critics contend that New Jersey doesn’t properly fund its court system.

Partisan Politics

The appointment of judges, even family law judges, is a political hot-button issue. In many cases, a delay in senate approval of judges nominated by the governor is the result of partisan wrangling.

Overriding Priorities

The New Jersey judge shortage extends beyond a shortage of family law judges. It also includes criminal law judges and juvenile court judges, whose approvals take priority over the approval of family law judges. Even within family law, emergency matters such as domestic violence take precedence over divorces.

It’s Best To Get a Family Lawyer Involved Early

With or without a shortage of judges, it’s best to get a family lawyer involved in your case early on. This will give your lawyer a chance to become intimately familiar with the issues at stake. A long backlog may be difficult to deal with, but it can give you a chance to amicably resolve some of the issues that divide you.

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