Bergen County Divorce Lawyer
Representing Clients Throughout New Jersey
Have you come to the realization that your marriage is broken beyond repair? If so, it may be a good time to consult with a divorce lawyer. The Erlina Perez Law Firm is committed to helping individuals and families in Hackensack and throughout Bergen County navigate the painful process of divorce.
We understand how difficult it can be to reveal intimate details about your personal life, which is why you can expect us to treat your case with the utmost respect and sensitivity. The firm’s founder and lead divorce attorney Erlina Perez believes in a compassionate and supportive approach to family law matters. She will listen closely to your goals and concerns and work with you to develop solutions that suit your immediate and long-term needs.
Ms. Perez recognizes that divorce is an emotionally charged event, especially when there are children involved, but strives to help her clients reach an amicable and reasonable settlement as swiftly as possible. Her breadth of knowledge and experience has pre
pared her to handle all aspects of divorce. In addition, her familiarity with the local courts in Hackensack and throughout Bergen County enables her to help you navigate the system with ease.
For a free consultation to learn more about your divorce legal options, call our office located in Hackensack at (201) 880-7070.
As a Bergen County resident, your divorce case will be filed and heard in the Family Division of the Superior Court at the Bergen County Court House:
Family Division Main Office
10 Main Street, Room 163
Hackensack, NJ 07601
Financial Issues in a Divorce
The end of a marriage also means the end of a financial partnership. Divorce attorney Erlina Perez will make sure to protect your financial interests and advocate on your behalf for a property settlement agreement that is fair and reasonable.
- Division of assets and debts: Property division laws in New Jersey are based on an equitable distribution model, meaning if you and your spouse cannot agree on how to divide your property then the court will step in and divide equally.
- Spousal support or alimony: New Jersey courts may award a financially dependent spouse a certain type of alimony based on his or her financial needs and earning capacity.
- Children Related Issues in a Divorce: If you have children, they are most certainly your first and foremost priority in a divorce. There’s no doubt you want to shield them from any additional or unnecessary trauma during this transition period. The most critical issues that will need to be addressed in a divorce involving kids is custody, parenting time, and child support.
- Child custody and Visitation: Reaching consensus with your spouse on dividing up time with your kids may not be easy but there are alternative dispute resolution measures such as mediation that can help you and your spouse find common ground. Ms. Perez will do everything possible to ensure that your parental rights remain intact and that you remain fully present in your child(ren)’s life.
- Child support: All parents in New Jersey are obligated to contribute financially in supporting their child(ren). The amount of child support provided is based on a formula known as the New Jersey Child support guidelines. Ms. Perez can help you negotiate a child support amount that is financially reasonable and in your child(ren)’s best interests.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
Depending on the nature of your relationship with your soon to be ex-spouse, your divorce will be either uncontested or contested. If you both agree on how to resolve all the key issues in your divorce, you can proceed with an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, Ms. Perez can incorporate all of your decisions into a binding marital settlement agreement.
An uncontested divorce in New Jersey takes approximately 3-6 months to become finalized.
Benefits of Uncontested Divorce
- Saves you time and money
- Avoid trial and judge interference
- You maintain control over the process
- Reduced stress for you and children
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, compromise cannot be achieved. If your spouse is not willing to meet you halfway, you will be headed for a contested divorce. This means that a judge will be involved in making important decisions about your future and the future of your children. Ms. Perez will not hesitate to vigorously litigate your case in the Bergen County family court system and fight to make sure you and your child(ren) are protected for the future.
Residency Requirement for Bergen County Divorce
Bergen County is one of the busiest counties in the state of New Jersey for divorce. In fact, 7,000 cases are on the divorce docket each year.
In order for a New Jersey court to hear your divorce case, they must have jurisdiction or legal authority to do so. To establish jurisdiction, the following residency requirement must be met:
- You or your spouse must have lived in New Jersey for at least one year prior to filing.
- The only exception to the one-year residency requirement is when the grounds for divorce are for adultery.
Beginning the Divorce Process: Document Checklist
Gathering key documents is a good first step in preparing for divorce. The following is an overview of some of the necessary documents you’ll need:
- Personal: social security cards, your driver’s license, and/or birth certificates for your children.
- Financial: recent pay stubs for you and your spouse, state and federal tax returns, bank account statements, credit card statements, loan documents.
- Title mortgages, valuations/appraisals, utility bills, rental agreements, vacation homes, investment and commercial properties.
- Insurance Policies: life insurance, medical insurance, homeowner’s insurance and car insurance.
Filing Divorce Papers
Divorce involves a ton of complex paperwork. One of the values of having a divorce attorney is that you never have to worry about filling out a form incorrectly or missing a deadline.
Each divorce filing in New Jersey must contain the following essential documents:
- Complaint for Divorce: lists the grounds for divorce usually based on one of four common reasons: Extreme Cruelty, Irreconcilable Differences, Eighteen (18) Month Separation or Adultery.
- Confidential Litigant Information Sheet: lists specific personal information such as date and place of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, auto license plate number, mother’s maiden name, children’s social security numbers, and medical information.
- Certificate of Insurance Coverage: lists medical and health benefit coverage, life insurance, homeowner or renter’s policies, automobile, disability, and any other active insurance policies.
- Certification of Complementary Dispute Resolution (CDR): certifies to the court that you are aware that alternative dispute resolution options exist.
Filing Complaint for Divorce in Bergen County
To formally begin the divorce process, Ms. Perez will file a complaint on your behalf at the Bergen County Court House located in Hackensack, NJ. The filing fee is $300 plus an extra $25 if you have children. Once the complaint is filed, the court assigns you a docket number.
Included within the complaint will be the grounds on which you choose to dissolve your marriage. Since New Jersey is a no-fault state, the most common grounds for divorce is irreconcilable differences. To file based on these grounds, the marriage must have been broken down for a period of six months.
Although rarely used, there are at-fault grounds to choose from as well, including:
- Extreme cruelty
- Substance abuse
- Deviant sexual conduct
Your complaint must also include specifics on what you are asking for in the divorce regarding alimony, dividing property, the custody of your children, child support, etc. Ms. Perez will make sure your wishes are explicitly articulated and documented.
After the petition is filed with the court, it must be served on your spouse. This is called service of process and means that your spouse must receive and sign a copy of the divorce petition. Your spouse has 35 days to file an answer with court, which can include his or her own counterclaim that states why they want a divorce from you and what issues they want the court to resolve in their favor in the divorce case.
If your spouse does not respond to the initial complaint, you can enter a default with the court and proceed without your spouse to get a Judgment of Divorce. If he/she does respond, you can file an answer to the counterclaim. If you have children, the court will send you information about a parenting program workshop.
Case Management Conference:
Within 20 days of an answer being filed, the court will schedule a Case Management Conference (CMC). This conference is meant to provide the court with a list of all the things that need to be accomplished going forward in your divorce proceeding.
Court sets a track for your case:
- Expedited: uncontested cases
- Priority: cases involving contested custody or parenting-time issues
- Complex: cases likely to require a great amount of court resources in preparation for trial
- Standard: cases that are not expedited, priority or complex
If you have children and you and your spouse have not reached a custody agreement or schedule of parenting time or visitation, the court will order you to meet with a mediator to resolve these issues.
The court will set deadline for discovery, which is when you and your spouse will disclose and exchange key financial documents.
The court will ask if you and your spouse plan on retaining experts for settlement or trial purposes (accountants, property appraisers, mental health specialist to conduct psychological or custody evaluations, etc).
Requesting Temporary Orders
If there are certain issues you need resolved before your divorce is finalized, Ms. Perez can file a temporary order or pendente lite (“awaiting the litigation”) motion for relief with the court. These orders can maintain the status quo or create some stability while your case is pending.
Temporary orders are often granted for:
- Child support.
- Spousal support.
- Temporary child custody.
- Setting a parenting time schedule.
- Awarding temporary sole possession of the marital residence.
- Ordering the payment of certain bills such as mortgage, utilities, car insurance, marital liabilities, college and private school tuition.
- Ordering the payment of health insurance.
- Awarding sole possession of certain vehicles.
- Restraining or protective order.
Temporary orders end when the final divorce is granted. However, if the current arrangements have worked well, you can incorporate them in the Final Judgment of Divorce or in the Marital Settlement Agreement and they will become permanent.
Discovery is the information gathering phase of a divorce in which you and your spouse will exchange key financial documents. This exchange of information helps to identify income, assets and debts so there are no surprises going forward.
- Discovery can also include:
- interrogatories — questions you submit to your spouse
- notice to produce/requests for documents
- depositions — sworn testimony of parties and witnesses
- appraisals of property
- custody evaluations
- retention of experts
Case Information Statement
The court requires divorcing couples to file a case information statement (CIS), which is a 10 page comprehensive document that sets forth the financial details in a divorce case. The CIS is arguably the most important document in a divorce and must be filled out as complete and accurate as possible. The information provided is used to craft a property settlement agreement as well as alimony and child support.
Listed in the document is information such as:
- income of both you and your spouse
- medical insurance coverage, life insurance coverage
- a budget of your living expenses
- itemization of the amounts which you are paying in support of your spouse or children (if you are contributing to their support)
- a summary of your assets and an itemization of your debts
Early Settlement Panel:
At the conclusion of discovery, which is usually 5-6 months after you’ve filed the complaint, the court will schedule you for an early settlement panel at the courthouse. This is meant to assist you in the settlement process. Prior to the panel, you and your spouse will submit proposals to one another and to a panel of volunteer family lawyers specifying how you would like to resolve key issues.
On the day of the settlement panel, the panelists will offer their recommendation on how they believe you should settle your divorce. Their feedback also helps to give you an idea of how a judge would rule if you were to go to trial. You are under no obligation to take their advice or implement their suggestions. If, however you and your spouse find the panel helpful and can work out , you can get a divorce that very same day.
Failure to reach a settlement at the ESP panel means you will have to attend court ordered economic mediation.
Economic mediation offers yet another opportunity to resolve your case without going to trial. You and your spouse will once again submit proposals, this time to a neutral mediator in the hopes of reaching compromise on the contested issues. If you are unable to find common ground, you will have one more opportunity to settle your case at an All-Day Intensive Settlement Conference at the Courthouse. If this too fails, the court will schedule a date to begin trial.
The good news is most cases do end up settling before trial.
At trial, a family court judge will review evidence, hear testimony from you, your spouse other witnesses and make decisions on all key issues.
What are the Different Types of Custody in New Jersey?
If you and your spouse can negotiate a child custody arrangement in good faith, then the court will not interfere. However, if you are unable to reach agreement, the court will step in and establish orders.
Bergen County Family Court makes child custody determinations based on what is in the best interests of the child(ren). The court’s general view is that child(ren) in a divorce should maintain frequent and meaningful contact with both parents and that each parent should share in the rights and responsibilities of raising the child(ren).
In New Jersey, custody is broken into two parts: legal and physical custody
Legal custody refers to who will make important decisions regarding the child(ren)’s education, healthcare, religion, and general welfare. Unless one parent is unhealthy or mentally unstable, the court will usually grant joint legal custody.
In regards to physical custody, this dictates where your child(ren) will live. Physical custody arrangements vary greatly. If your child ends up spending the majority of time with you during a given week, you will be designated the parent of primary residence and your spouse will be the parent of alternate residence and receive visitation or parenting time. This type of arrangement is generally referred to as joint physical custody. You and your spouse will need to work together to develop the following schedules:
- Residential schedule
- Holiday schedule
- Vacation Schedule
- Sole physical and legal custody can be awarded to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit or is considered a danger to the child(ren).
Factors Court Considers When Deciding Custody:
- Determining appropriate custody requires a consideration of several factors including but not limited to:
- willingness of you and your spouse to communicate and cooperate with one another on matters related to your child(ren)
- bonds and relationships between child(ren) and parents and/or siblings
- whether or not there is a history of domestic violence
- employment schedules
- safety, security, and stability of home environment
- distance between your residence and your spouse’s residence
If you are considering a divorce, call the Erlina Perez Law Firm today at (201) 880-7070 to learn your legal options. Learn more about Erlina Perez here.