In New Jersey, divorce cases (termed “dissolution cases” by the courts) are filed and heard in the Family Division of the Superior Court at the county court level. After a case is completed and a judgment of divorce issued, the case is closed. Records for closed divorce cases are stored and archived by the Superior Court Clerk’s Office at our warehouse in Trenton. The number of years between the time a case is closed and the time the case records are transferred to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office for archiving varies from county to county.
In many circumstances it may not be necessary to obtain a copy of the actual Judgment of Divorce. The Superior Court Clerk’s Office can prepare a Certificate of Divorce for a nominal fee. The certificate contains the county of venue, docket number, names of the parties and date of the Final Judgment of Divorce, and is stamped with the Seal of the Superior Court.
The decision of whether or not to go to trial and to have a judge decide contested issues often involves a cost-benefit analysis. If the financial benefit that may be received from going to trial is high compared to the cost of going to trial, it may make sense to go to trial. For example, if wife and husband dispute the value of a business started by the husband during the marriage and the difference in their valuations is substantial, then it may make sense to let a judge decide the issue rather than give in to an unreasonable valuation by the other side.
The Judgment of Divorce (Form UD-11) needs to be filed and entered in the County Clerk’s Office. The manner in which this occurs depends upon the procedure of the county in which you brought the action. Consult the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office for information regarding your obligations for the retrieval and/or entry of the signed judgment and supporting papers. Should you receive notice that the papers have been filed on your behalf by the court, or if you file the papers, you may go to the County Clerk’s Office to obtain a certified copy of the judgment. You must bring identification with you, because matrimonial files are confidential and information will be released only to a party or his or her attorney. The certified copy will cost between $4.00 and $10.00, but the fee will be waived if you obtained a poor person waiver. A copy of the judgment of divorce must be served on the Defendant. To do this, you must have served on the Defendant a copy of the signed and entered Judgment of Divorce (Form UD-11), together with the completed Notice of Entry (Form UD-14). Service by mail is sufficient. You should ask the Process Server who serves the Judgment of Divorce with Notice of Entry to sign the Affidavit of Service of Judgment of Divorce (Form UD-15) before a Notary Public. A copy of the Judgment of Divorce and Notice of Entry must be attached to the signed and notarized Affidavit of Service. Keep the Affidavit with your important papers.
After you have completed Steps 1-7, you are ready to place your case on the court’s calendar. If the Defendant consents to the action by signing the Affidavit of Defendant (Form UD-7), you may place your case on the court’s calendar immediately. Otherwise, you will have to wait until 40 days after the date of the service of the summons.
You must complete the following steps to place your case on the calendar:
STEP 8: You must complete Forms UD-3 through UD-12 (include UD-7 only if signed by the Defendant). Form UD-3 (Affidavit of Service) and Form UD-4 (Sworn Statement of Removal of Barriers to Remarriage) need not be completed, or filed, if the Defendant has signed Form UD-7 (Affidavit of Defendant) and checked Box 6b on the form, Form UD-8(3) Child Support Worksheet, Form UD-8a (Support Collection Unit Information Sheet) and Form UD-8b (Qualified Medical Child Support Order) need not be completed, or filed, if there are no un- emancipated children of the marriage. Form UD-8(2) (Maintenance Guidelines Worksheet) need not be completed or filed or if neither party seeks maintenance as payee under the Maintenance Guidelines Law. Form UD-8(1) (Annual Income Worksheet) is not required if neither party seeks maintenance or child support.
STEP 1. Prepare an original and two copies of the Summons With Notice (Form UD-1) or the Summons and Verified Complaint (Form UD-1a and Form UD-2).
STEP 2.Purchase an index number at the County Clerk’s Office and file the original of the Summons With Notice or the original of the Summons and Verified Complaint with the County Clerk. Unless you are granted a poor person’s waiver, you will be required to pay $210 for the index number. Check with the County Clerk regarding acceptable forms of payment. Many County Clerks also will require that you fill out an Index Number Application Form at the time of filing, so be sure to bring with you the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all of the attorneys or, if unrepresented, of the parties themselves.
Usually, the total fees will be approximately $400, as follows:
Starting the case: It costs $210 to buy a case Index Number at your County Clerk’s Office to start a New York State divorce case.
Later in the case: Other fees totaling approximately $160 will have to be paid. These additional fees will be described as you follow the steps in this booklet.
At the end of the case: If the court grants the divorce, several other fees will have to paid for certain legal papers showing that the divorce was approved. These costs vary from county to county, but will roughly total $5-$30.
The responsibilities of a stepparent depend on state law. A stepparent usually is not required to pay child support for a spouse’s child from another marriage, unless the stepparent has adopted the child. Until then, the child’s biological parents are liable for the child’s support. Some states, however, make stepparents liable for the stepchild’s support as long as the stepparent and stepchild are living together.
A stepparent who does not adopt a spouse’s child normally may not claim custody of the child if the marriage ends in divorce, although some states allow a stepparent to seek visitation.
A stepchild usually does not share in the estate of a stepparent, unless the stepparent has provided for the stepchild in a will. However, an unmarried stepchild under eighteen may receive supplemental retirement benefits or survivor’s benefits under Social Security.
There is no one factor that is invariably “the” most important factor in a custody case. The importance of a particular factor will vary with the facts of each case. If one parent in a custody dispute has a major problem with alcoholism or mental illness or has abused the child, that of course could be the deciding factor.
If neither parent has engaged in unusually bad conduct, the most important factor often is which parent has been primarily responsible for taking care of the child on a day-to-day basis. Some states refer to this as the primary caretaker factor. If one parent can show that he or she took care of the child most of the time, that parent usually will be favored for custody, particularly if the child is young (under approximately eight years old).
Under the current law of almost all states, mothers and fathers have an equal right to custody. Courts are not supposed to assume that a child is automatically better off with the mother or the father. In a contested custody case, both the father and mother have an equal burden of proving to the court that it is in the best interest of the child that the child be in his or her custody.
There are a few states (mostly in the South) that have laws providing that if everything else is equal, the mother may be preferred; but in those states, many fathers have been successful in obtaining custody, even if the mother is a fit parent.
In some states, courts say that mothers and fathers are to be considered equally, but the courts then go on to hold that it is permissible to consider the age or sex of the child when deciding custody. That usually translates to a preference for mothers if the child is young or female. But, again, it is possible for fathers in those states to gain custody, even when the mother is fit.