Divorce is one of those strange things in life that no one wants. Until they do, that is. When that moment arrives, lives are forever altered, not only of the couple involved, but of any children they might have, their extended families and their friends. Households are almost always uprooted and finances impacted.
No matter how commonly it seems to occur in our society today (reportedly half of all marriages end in divorce), the decision to get a divorce should not be considered lightly. Whenever reasonable, all efforts should be made to salvage the marriage. If you have decided you have no choice but to get a divorce (or your spouse has made that decision), there are things you should know before you commence the divorce process in NJ.
1. Divorce is not a piece of cake.
Things will almost certainly not go smoothly, regardless of how amicable you think the dissolution of your marriage is going to be. There is property to be divided, information to be obtained (some of it possibly embarrassing, hurtful and/or damaging), custody and visitation rights to be resolved, and alimony, maintenance and support payments to be determined.
The more reasons for disagreement arise, the more likely it is that conflict will follow. A competent New Jersey divorce attorney will help smooth the path you’re about to travel by preserving your rights, protecting your interests and helping you identify whether something is worth going after, assuming that the law permits you to go after it at all. In other words, your lawyer will tell you what you need to know to separate things that are important from things that are not.
2. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
In your dealings with your divorce lawyer, honesty, as the saying goes, is the best policy. Your divorce attorney requires full disclosure from you for several reasons:
- To enable him or her to fully understand your case. A good divorce lawyer will want to know everything there is to know about you, about your spouse (and children if any), about your marriage, your finances and in general, your life.
- To ensure you receive all that you are entitled to under the divorce laws of New Jersey.
- Lawyers hate being ambushed. When you go through the divorce process in NJ you will likely undergo some form of discovery, something that gives the other side fairly broad access to your finances, investments and other parts of your life. Should your case go to trial, further opportunity exists for your life to be exposed in the cold, hard light of day, so to speak.
- If you’ve got something to hide, the divorce process in NJ is not the time to test how well you can keep a secret hidden. Your lawyer needs to hear it from you, not from the other side or at some time when he or she didn’t know it was coming. An unprepared lawyer has no opportunity to prepare an appropriate response or mitigate the potential damage the information may cause.
3. Sometimes two good people simply can’t make a good marriage; it doesn’t have to be someone’s fault.
No one likes to admit that they were wrong or at fault when things don’t turn out as planned. This is especially true when a marriage fails. While you might want to be right and use the divorce process in NJ to demonstrate to the world that you are not to blame for the end of the relationship, it’s not really relevant. Put another way, it usually just doesn’t matter.
Unless custody and visitation are in dispute and you are trying to show that the other spouse is in some way an unfit parent, the court doesn’t really care who, if anyone, is at fault for the divorce. It’s possible to commence the divorce process in NJ without drawing battle lines or worrying about who played a bigger role in the breakdown of your marriage and what you’re going to need to do to prove that. As it turns out, this is just as well because…
4. Time is money.
If you and your soon-to-be ex agree on the important issues such as the division of marital property, maintenance, alimony, custody and so on, consider yourself fortunate. You may still need a lawyer but only to review everything to make sure you’re not neglecting an important matter or agreeing to something you don’t have to.
If, however, you anticipate the divorce to become strongly contested on one or more issues, your legal fees may become hefty. Competent divorce lawyers in New Jersey charge anywhere from $250 to $450 per hour (and more). In the divorce process in NJ, you have no control over the actions of the other spouse or how complicated dealing with financial or child-related issues might become. As a result, it’s difficult for an attorney to estimate with any certainty how much the final bill might be.
Couples often lose sight of the fact that by focusing on proving the other spouse is a bad person, they’re simply creating more work for the lawyers representing them. This, of course, ends up costing the parties more money. This becomes even more problematic if the court decides that one party is responsible to pay for some or all of the other party’s legal fees, something that is in the court’s discretion.
Your divorce lawyer will be able to guide you through the process and offer advice about what issues to contest. Remember that agreement on major issues during the divorce process in NJ will keep your costs down.
There is, however, another important reason for keeping proceedings as civil as possible: Your emotional and mental well being as well as (if applicable) the emotional and mental well-being of the children in the family. This is why a good family law attorney will always strive to ensure that you see the big picture, that a “successful” divorce is about more than who gets the cabin in the woods or the sculpture you bought on your honeymoon that now has sentimental and/or financial value to you both.
There are other costs associated with getting a divorce that your attorney will discuss with you. Although not excessive, they can add up. You need to know up front what you’ll be expected to pay in addition to your lawyer’s fees.
5. The day after…
As you’re going through the divorce process in NJ, you may, at times, find it difficult to believe that life will go on afterwards. Jobs continue as do family and business relationships and personal responsibilities must be met. The lives of all involved will face the consequences of whatever happened, good or bad, during the divorce proceedings. Something that may have seemed like a victory at the time may appear much less so if it has a lasting negative effect on you, your ex and/or your children. Listening to your divorce lawyer and not letting your emotions get the better of you and cloud your judgment is probably the best thing you can do while you go through the divorce process in NJ.