The Divorce Roadmap
What You can Expect in Your Proceedings from Our Hackensack Lawyers
Divorce can be a very tough time for family members. At Laterra and Hodge LLC, our attorneys try to make the process simpler and easier.
Listed are divorce steps (left to right):
- Answer and Counterclaim
- Case Information Statement
- Parenting Plan
- Case Management Conference
- Discovery Process
- Early Settlement Panel
- Economic Mediation
- Trial Preparation / Trial
- Motion Practice
Read more information below then call Laterra & Hodge, LLC at (201) 580-2240 to schedule your free consultation.
A Complaint is first filed with to the Court, which assigns it a docket number. The docket number will determine to which judge your matter has been assigned. The party filing the initial Complaint will be designated the Plaintiff.
Once the Complaint is filed with Court, it may be served upon the Complainant’s spouse.
Answer & Counterclaim / Answer to Counterclaim
Within 35 days of service, the party served with the Complaint is required to file an Answer to the Complaint, in which he or she will admit or deny each and every paragraph of the Complaint. The party answering the Complaint will be designated the Defendant, or Defendant.
At the same time that the Defendant answers the Complaint, the Defendant may also file a Counterclaim for Divorce, which in form may look substantially similar to the Plaintiff’s Complaint for Divorce, but will contain his or her own allegations upon which his or her Counterclaim is based.
If a Counterclaim for Divorce is filed, the Plaintiff will have to file an Answer to the Counterclaim within twenty days.
Case Information Statement
A Case Information Statement must be filed within 20 days of filing the Answer. A Case Information Statement provides the judge with the pertinent financial information in the case.
It is broken down into four basic components:
- Income from all sources, measured in terms of gross income and net income, monthly income, and year-to-date income.
- Monthly expenses, which are broken down into three categories: shelter expenses (i.e., mortgage, taxes, utilities); transportation expenses (i.e., car payments, insurance); and personal expenses. This schedule assists the Court in determining the lifestyle that the parties maintained during the marriage, as well as the parties’ current budget.
- Assets, including bank accounts, real property, automobiles, personal property, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance. This provides the judge with information as to what items are eligible for division between the parties, as well as any assertions by either party as to why certain items should not be considered eligible for division between the parties.
- Liabilities, which must be listed to determine your net worth, and to further determine what debt is marital and therefore subject to equitable distribution.
A Case Information Statement can and most likely will be updated periodically over the course of the proceedings, including 20 days prior to trial, if trial becomes necessary.
Within 75 days of filing the Answer, each party must submit to the Court a detailed parenting plan, which sets forth that party’s proposal for custody and parenting time.
Custody is broken down into two components:
- Legal custody, which concerns decision-making process related issues affecting the children
- Physical (or residential) custody, which means where the children primarily reside
Case Management Conference
Approximately two to four weeks after the Answer to the Complaint is filed, the parties will receive a notice for the first Court appearance—a Case Management Conference. The purpose of this Conference is to allow the judge to get acquainted with the case, and all that is to be involved.
At the Case Management Conference, the judge will:
- Ascertain whether Case Information Statements have been filed, and assign a date by which they must be filed, if they have not yet been filed
- Ascertain whether custody is in issue (i.e., if both sides are requesting physical custody), and if so, appoint a mental health expert to conduct a best interests evaluation, and allocate the cost of same
- Ascertain whether any property (real property, businesses, pensions, jewelry, art work, etc.) must be appraised, and appoint an expert to do so by a date certain, and allocate the cost of same
- Assign a date for both sides to propound interrogatories—a voluminous and exhaustive set of questions to be answered by the parties’ spouse— and any accompanying request for documents that must be answered accurately and certified
- Assign a date for both sides to answer interrogatories
- Assign a date for an Early Settlement Panel
The discovery process can start at any time subsequent to the filing of the Complaint for Divorce, but usually commences after the initial Case Management Conference.
During the discovery period each side is required to provide any relevant documentation requested by the other side (Notice to Produce), and answer in writing any written questions asked by the other side (Interrogatories).
In addition, each side is permitted to depose the other side. A deposition is an opportunity to ask questions a fact witness (including the husband or wife) in a private setting. The deposition is recorded and transcribed, and the transcription may be admitted into evidence at a subsequent trial.
The discovery period is also the point in the case where all of the experts assigned to the matter are conducting their evaluations (business evaluations, custody evaluations, real estate appraisals).
The purpose of the discovery process is to permit each side to obtain all information necessary to make an informed decision on whether, and on what terms, to settle the matter.
Early Settlement Panel
An Early Settlement Panel is a panel of (usually) three experienced matrimonial law attorneys with whom the parties meet at the Courthouse to present their proposals for settlement. The date for the Early Settlement is assigned at the Case Management Conference, and the assigned date will be a date after all interrogatories are answered, and all property has been evaluated. The panel is provided with a written, confidential statement of your position and your spouse’s position in advance.
The Early Settlement Panelists’ recommendations are not binding. Neither side is compelled to accept their recommendations. They are not permitted to report to the judge either side’s proposal, or their recommendations regarding same.
If the parties are able to reach a settlement on the date of the Early Settlement Panel, the parties can be divorced on that date. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement on that date, then report to the judge, who orders the parties to engage in economic mediation (a final attempt at reaching a settlement), and assigns a trial date.
Economic mediation is another step in the process aimed at leading the parties to settlement, and is usually scheduled following a failed attempt at settlement through the Early Settlement Panel.
Economic mediation is mandatory, although the first two hours of the economic mediator’s time is not charged to the parties.
While the Early Settlement Panel and economic mediation are similar in that both involve a confidential settlement of the facts and law of the case rendered by a neutral third party, there is a very significant distinction. Whereas the Early Settlement Panel involves an analysis by three attorneys on a single morning during which the case is one of many cases being assessed, economic mediation involves a more personal and thorough examination of the case. This because economic mediation involves single mediator devoting time to a single case, often over the span of many sessions.
If the matter has not settled through economic mediation, it shall proceed to trial with the help of our Hackensack lawyers.
During trial, each side is permitted to tell his or her story; it is the opportunity for each side to present to the Court everything that he or she believes the Court needs to know in Order to make an informed decision.
Different witnesses may be called to testify in addition to the parties themselves. Other witnesses may include fact witnesses or expert witnesses, such as custody experts or forensic accountants.
In addition, the parties may introduce documentation into evidence that supports his or her case. This may include, without limitation, bank records, credit card statements, tax returns, report cards, doctor records, attendance reports, etc.
One each side has had the opportunity to present its case, the decision on all outstanding issues is left to the Court.
At any time during the course of the proceedings, either side is permitted to file a motion with the Court. A motion is a mechanism by which a party can ask the Court to order specific relief, such as temporary custody, temporary support, parenting time, contribution to or reimbursement for any expenses, and counsel fees. A motion can also be used to compel a party to comply with a prior Order of the Court (i.e., an Order entered at the Case Management Conference compelling the parties to Answer Interrogatories by a certain date). In some circumstances, a motion can also be used to ascertain from the Court a legal, procedural or evidentiary determination in advance of trial—the determination of which is necessary or helpful in preparation of trial.
Motions are heard on alternate Fridays in Bergen County—this is known as the “return date.” Motions must be filed at least twenty-four days prior to the return date, so that, by way of example, if September 25th was a return date, a motion would have to be filed by September 1st in order to qualify to be heard on that return date. Keep in mind, however, that often motions are adjourned, either at the request of one party, or at the court’s initiative, for at least one motion cycle (two weeks).
If a motion is filed, your spouse has an opportunity to respond, and also file a cross-motion, whereby your spouse may make his or her own requests. A response and cross-motion must be filed eight days prior to the return date.
Finally, the other side (that is, the side who filed the original motion) is thereafter given a chance to respond to the cross-motion, which must be filed eight days prior to the motion. This represents the last paper filed with the Court in regard to the motion.
Motions are supported by Certifications, which are written statements setting forth a factual basis for the requested relief. Attached to these Certifications are Exhibits—any document that supports or reflects the statements set forth in the Certification. Examples of such Exhibits, without limitation, include letters or e-mails between the parties, copies of bills and checks, photographs, etc.
On the return date, the issues of the motion are addressed by the Court, and an Order is entered. The Court, at its discretion, can either decide the motion “on the papers“—that is, premise its decision by merely reading the written submissions of the parties; or the Court can require oral argument, in which case the attorneys appear in Court to argue the merits of their respective positions. As a general rule, you are entitled to appear, but not required to appear, at such motions, although some judges may require your appearance. If you do attend oral argument, either because your appearance is required by the Court, or because for some tactical reason we believe it is beneficial for you to be there, we will discuss in advance what you may expect.
Either way, the Court thereafter enters a written Order that becomes binding upon the parties.