Contrary to common belief, to get a divorce in New Jersey, you don’t need to file a divorce complaint with the court right away.

Depending on your circumstances, it might make sense to reach a divorce agreement with your spouse first.

Because generally, once you file the divorce complaint with the court, both you and your spouse are forced to abide by court-imposed events and timelines.  Many of these are strictly procedural and have nothing to do with the substantive issues in your case.

Reaching a divorce agreement with your spouse without involving the court generally involves the following steps:

Agree on a cutoff date.

Instead of filing a divorce complaint right away, divorcing spouses can enter into what’s called a “cutoff agreement.”  This is where both spouses agree not to file the divorce complaint at this time based on an agreed-upon date to be used for identifying and valuing the marital assets and determining the length of marriage for purposes of alimony.

Agree on custody and parenting time for your children.

It is generally best for your kids and far more amicable and cheaper to come to an agreement with the other parent as to custody and parenting time arrangements for your children.

To get an idea of what to include in a custody and parenting time agreement, check out this post.

Exchange financial documentation with the other spouse.

This typically starts with completing a sworn statement of your income, expenses, and assets and liabilities called the Case Information Statement.

For any assets or debts in one spouse’s individual name, it’s generally a good idea to obtain three or so years of statements for the following:

  • savings and checking accounts
  • investment accounts
  • stocks and bonds
  • employment records
  • credit card account statements

These types of financial documents can help to identify any additional sources of income, large or unexplained withdrawals or transfers, references to additional accounts or assets, and debts that might be unrelated to the marriage.

If there are pension plans, it can be beneficial to have an outside professional calculate the present value of the marital portion.  This can open up additional options for settlement.

Obtain values of additional marital assets to be divided.

Finding out values for a home or business often requires outside professionals like appraisers or accountants.  For vehicles, Bluebook values are typically used.

Make sure to include significant items of property like jewelry, collections of coins or guns or stamps, and paintings or other artwork.

Negotiate and draft the divorce agreement.

When both spouses are satisfied that all marital income, assets, and debts have been identified and valued, the next step is generally to negotiate and decide:

  • how to divide the marital assets and debts;
  • amount and duration of alimony if appropriate; and
  • If you have children, calculate child support and how college costs and expenses would be paid.

The above is certainly not an all-inclusive list and there can often be additional issues to be resolved between the two of you.

Oftentimes, the attorney for one spouse would draft the divorce agreement and send it to the other spouse’s lawyer.  This agreement is typically called the “Marital Settlement Agreement.”

It is a comprehensive legal agreement that resolves all of the issues between you and your spouse.  When the court enters a Judgment of Divorce, the Marital Settlement Agreement typically gets attached and becomes binding as a court order.

For more information about how to settle your divorce out of court or for a personalized consultation, please click here.