*in some cases and now statewide

Last week, the New Jersey Courts issued Directive 18-20. While some counties or judges had been granting divorces without a personal appearance by the parties or their lawyers — also known as a hearing on the papers — it had not been done statewide. The COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic has caused the courts to be largely closed since mid-March 2020. This will lead to a huge backlog of cases in all divisions of the court system. There may also be divorcing spouses who are at greater health risk for a court appearance. To address all this, the court will now allow a divorce without personal appearances (on the papers) statewide.

Here are the circumstances under which you can ask for a no appearance divorce:

  1. When the filing spouse has properly given notice to the other spouse (also called service of process) and the other spouse fails to respond to the divorce complaint (filing). The filing spouse would be asking for a default judgment.
  2. OR when both spouses agree on all issues (also known as an uncontested divorce) and they both are simply asking the court to grant the divorce.

The no appearance divorce will be granted under these circumstances:

  1. Divorce/Dissolution of the marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or complaint for annulment with no additional request for relief.
  2. Divorce/Dissolution of the marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or complaint for annulment with a signed property settlement agreement or the continuation of final orders entered in other proceedings resolving all issues of equitable distribution, custody, parenting time, and child support, with no outstanding issues or assets that need to be addressed by the court.
  3. Divorce/Dissolution of the marriage or complaint for annulment and a request by the plaintiff to resume any name used before the marriage or assume any surname, consistent with N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21. (There are some conditions on this.)

The request for a no appearance divorce must be made in writing to the court. The court staff will review the filings and will let the plaintiff or plaintiff’s counsel know if there are any deficiencies. The deficiencies will need to be fixed within 10 days otherwise a hearing will be scheduled. If the papers are in order, it will be forwarded to a judge within 5 days and if the judge is satisfied, the judge will issue the Judgment of Divorce/Dissolution. This judgment will be mailed to the plaintiff/attorney who will serve it on the defendant/attorney.

This should make divorcing easier and should help my divorce mediation clients, especially those who choose not to use lawyers. Mediated divorces, when completed in mediation, are uncontested. If you would like to discuss mediating your divorce — including remote divorce mediation using Zoom — please feel free to contact me at 732-963-2299.