Complaint for Divorce (sometimes referred to as the petition for divorce) : The document filed with the court that initiates the divorce proceedings.
Discovery: The formal process in litigation in which the parties exchange documents and information. In divorce proceedings, discovery is the stage when each spouse requests from the other spouse copies of all documents and information pertaining to their marriage. This information includes, but is not limited to, copies of bank and credit card statements, mortgages, deeds, and other financial interests, as well as all records pertaining to the children. This is usually a lengthy and expensive process. While formal discovery does not take place in mediation, the parties will exchange all documents and information that is required for each to be satisfied that he or she is making fully informed decisions.
Judgment of Divorce: The document or decree that is signed by the judge granting the divorce between the parties. Uncontested Divorce In an uncontested divorce, the parties have reached an agreement and do not contest any of the issues related to the marriage. Equitable Distribution The process of dividing fairly the marital property owned by the parties. Equitable does not mean equal and this often confuses people. “Equitable” division of the property can depend on a number of factors. In NJ, the factors considered by the court are identified in New Jersey Statutes 2A:34-23.1.
Litigation: The process in which one party sues another and seeks resolution from a court.
Memorandum of Understanding (also called an "MOU"): This document identifies the terms that were agreed to in divorce mediation. Once you and your spouse agree to the terms of settlement, a Memorandum of Understanding is drafted. Once the parties agree on the MOU, each spouse is provided two copies; one for themselves and one for his or her review attorney.
Participation Agreement: The Participation Agreement is the contract that is signed at the first meeting by you, your spouse, and the Collaborative Professionals involved in your case. It sets out the expectations of everyone involved in the collaborative process – to engage in the collaborative process openly and transparently and to resolve your issues through negotiation and cooperation. One of the most important provisions of the Participation Agreement is the agreement to stay out of court. If you choose to go to court before reaching a settlement, you must start over with new attorneys and new experts, and those that you used during the collaborative divorce process cannot contribute to your new case in any way. The underlying philosophy is that by removing the threat of court, parties will negotiate more openly, honestly and efficiently. The Participation Agreement expressly states this.
Another important provision of the Participation Agreement is confidentiality. The New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act protects the confidentiality of communications made as part of the collaborative law process. If a party terminates the collaborative process, neither can use any of the communications in subsequent litigation without the express, written consent of the other party. Also, neither party can use any of the communications of the other collaborative team members with their consent. Protecting the confidentiality of the process encourages open and frank settlement discussions, which inevitably will lead to a resolution. Who signs the Participation Agreement?
The parties and every collaborative professional involved in the case signs the Participation Agreement. Not all professionals sign at the same time. At the first meeting, the parties and the attorneys will review and sign the agreement. If the parties have already engaged a divorce coach, financial advisor, or some other neutral professional, then that professional will also need to sign the Participation Agreement at the first meeting. Most commonly, though, the other professionals will add their signatures to the Participation Agreement as they join the collaborative team.
It is important that you read the Participation Agreement closely, and review it with your attorney. Any questions or concerns should be addressed before you sign it. It is a contract and you will be bound by its terms. Be certain to retain an experienced, collaboratively trained attorney that will guide you through the execution of the Participation Agreement and help you navigate the collaborative law process.
Residency Requirement: A party may file for divorce in New Jersey if the grounds for divorce occurred in New Jersey. One of the parties must have lived in New Jersey for at least one year at the time of the filing of the Complaint. The only exception to the one year residency requirement is a filing based on the grounds of adultery, which has no residency requirement.
Settlement Agreement (also known as a Property Settlement Agreement or a Marital Settlement Agreement): This is the final contract between the parties. If you enter into a Settlement Agreement, then you will not need a trial, i.e., a judge will not determine the terms of your divorce because all of the issues are addressed in your Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement must be submitted to the court with the Complaint for Divorce so that the court knows that all of the issues between the parties have been settled. At the time of the divorce, the Settlement Agreement may be incorporated into the Judgment of Divorce. This creates an enforceable judicial order instead of just a contract.
Uncontested Divorce Hearing: the hearing that is scheduled and takes place after you have entered a Marital Settlement Agreement at the conclusion of which the Judge grants your divorce. The actual hearing (the amount of time you are before the Judge) is very short. During the hearing, your attorney (or the judge if you do not have any attorney) will ask you questions about the marriage, your residency and the settlement agreement. All of the questions are straightforward and easily answered once you have a final settlement. It is also during this hearing when you can request to resume your maiden name if you so desire.
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Wilson Family Law LLC
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Chatham, NJ 07928
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