Hollywood would have you believe that you cannot get a divorce until your spouse signs the divorce papers. The premise makes for an entertaining movie plot, but it’s not exactly true. In New Jersey, you can get a divorce without a signature or agreement from your spouse if they refuse to participate in the process.
Below are a few tips for individuals who face the frustrating scenario of a non-cooperative spouse:
Serve the Spouse Divorce Papers Anyway
“Serving divorce papers” is an informal term used to describe the legal process that begins a divorce. The actual papers are called the Summons and Complaint, and the State of New Jersey has rules governing how they are delivered.
Usually, one of two scenarios will happen:
- You deliver the Summons and Complaint to your spouse, either in person or by certified mail. If your spouse is represented by an attorney, they can accept service of the papers on your spouse’s behalf.
- A third party delivers the Summons and Complaint to your spouse. Your attorney can hire a private “process server” to make the delivery and provide proof that your spouse received the paperwork. You can also request the Sheriff’s office with jurisdiction over your spouse’s current residence deliver the paperwork.
To begin a divorce, your spouse must receive the divorce papers in person. This remains true, even if your spouse insists that he/she will not accept the divorce.
What if My Spouse Avoids the Delivery?
If you can’t locate your spouse, or they are successfully dodging your attempts to serve them papers, don’t despair- there are some exceptions to the “in-person” requirement for delivery. You can request the court grant permission to serve the spouse with divorce papers digitally, in a local newspaper announcement, or through a friend or family member.
If there is valid documentation the spouse received the paperwork, the divorce process begins with or without the recipient’s consent.
Regardless of which way you choose to deliver the paperwork, you must file an affidavit of service with the courts. This document serves as legal confirmation the divorce paperwork was successfully delivered to the receiving spouse.
Wait Up to 35 Days for a Response
In a divorce where both parties are cooperative, the recipient of the Summons and Complaint will typically sign and return an Acknowledgement of Service. This document confirms your spouse understands and accepts the divorce. The signed paperwork is notarized and filed with the court.
The spouse may also file an appearance or a counterclaim that objects to the specifics in the Summons and Complaint. For example, the spouse may disagree with the stated grounds for divorce, or a specific provision involving alimony or child support.
The recipient of the divorce paperwork has 35 days from the date of successful delivery to respond. If the receiving spouse fails to respond, you can move forward by seeking a default judgement of divorce.
Seek a Default Judgement of Divorce
If your spouse fails to acknowledge the Summons and Complaint within 35 days of service, you may file a request for a “default judgement of divorce.” To receive a default judgement, the individual seeking the divorce must prove the spouse was successfully served with the Summons and Complaint in a manner compliant with New Jersey law.
You must also confirm the receiving spouse is not serving in the military and failed to respond to the Summons and Complaint.
Do I Have to Go to Court for a Default Divorce?
Not necessarily, but probably. Some couples choose to pursue a default divorce even though both parties are being cooperative, simply because a default divorce can be faster and easier than other strategies. This is called a “default divorce by agreement,” and a few counties in New Jersey are experimenting with permitting signed divorce settlement agreements to move forward without court appearances.
If you are reading this blog post, however, you are likely not one of these couples. When the default divorce is not “by agreement,” the court will receive the Summons and Complaint paperwork and set a date for a default hearing. The recipient spouse must be notified of the hearing date, along with any proposed final judgement of divorce or notices of application for alimony, child support, or equitable distribution of property.
All notices must be delivered to the recipient spouse at least 20 days before the hearing, using a method of delivery that can be proved in court.
Hire a North Jersey Divorce Lawyer
It’s a longer road to a divorce settlement when both parties are not equally invested in the process. However, it is possible, and we can help.
The divorce attorneys at Arons & Solomon help individuals navigate the divorce process in a way that minimizes time, cost, and emotional strain on New Jersey families.
To begin taking steps toward your divorce settlement, contact us today.