Uncontested Divorce Hearings in New Jersey: What to Expect
You will already have received a notice from the court (“Notice of Assignment”) telling you what day and time to be at court for your uncontested divorce hearing. The uncontested divorce hearings are usually scheduled to be called at 8:30 to 9:00 AM and both parties must be present. Try to arrive early, before 8:15 AM to allow time to go through the security check point. If you will be unavoidably late, call the Family Court Clerk’s Office.
You should dress appropriately, i.e., “business casual” (no shorts or tank tops, jeans, etc.).
You will be required to pass through a security check point and a metal detector before entering the courthouse. Although the exact procedures differ from courthouse to courthouse, you should be prepared to empty your pockets, to place your purse or briefcase on the conveyor belt to be electronically scanned, and to have anything resembling a weapon (e.g., pocket knives, scissors, etc.) confiscated before you enter. Cameras will also be confiscated. All cell phones must be turned off and stowed before entering any courtroom, and no photos or videos are allowed anywhere in the courthouse. Some courthouses will not permit you to bring a cell phone with a camera into the courthouse building.
Once inside the courthouse you can ask any uniformed court officer to direct you to the courtroom where your divorce will be heard. there may also be a list posted of all of the cases being heard in the courthouse that day which will indicate which courtroom you should go to. It is common courthouse jargon to refer to a “courtroom” as a “session”.
After finding the correct courtroom, the next step is to “check-in” with the clerk. The clerk may be outside the courtroom or in the front of the courtroom.
The following instructions apply if we are not attending the court hearing with you. If we are, the attorney will take care of these details.
Ideally both parties should check in together. On busy days there may be a line. Show the clerk your hearing notice (“Notice of Assignment”) or give your last name and docket number. The clerk will review the court’s file to confirm that everything is there and properly filled out. Sometimes a document or two may be missing. Be sure you have copies of all court forms and an original, signed and notarized Separation Agreement to replace any missing documents, if necessary.
After most of the cases are checked in, the judge will usually enter the courtroom to begin hearing cases. When the judge enters the court, an officer will say “All rise” in a loud voice and everyone will stand up. While the court is in session, no talking is allowed, you may not use your cell phone, or smart phone, and you may only read court documents, i.e., no books or newspapers. No food, drink, or gum is allowed in the courtroom.
There is no certain order in which cases are called. Emergencies (e.g., request for restraining orders) are generally heard first, then uncontested matters, and then contested matters. Your judge will set the order on the morning of your hearing. Judges often clear their courtrooms of all parties and lawyers for certain matters (e.g., adoptions).
When your case is called a clerk will announce your last name and the docket number. Walk to the front of the courtroom and stand before the judge. The clerk will swear you in by asking you to raise your right hand and then asking: “Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?” Since proceedings are recorded, your answer must be audible. If you have a philosophical objection to swearing to God, you may ask to “affirm” the truthfulness of your testimony instead. Always refer to the judge as “your honor”.
A judge hearing an uncontested, no-fault divorce must make two findings before “allowing” the joint petition. First, the judge must find legal grounds for the divorce, e.g., an “irreconcilable differences leading to the irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. Second, the judge must find that the Separation Agreement is “fair and reasonable”. Judges usually focus primarily on the agreement and the case information statements. While hearing a joint divorce petition, a judge has broad discretion to ask about almost anything during the marriage BUT NOT the marital conduct of the parties. For example, a judgment MAY ask about parental conduct that affects children, but a judge MAY NOT ask about adulterous behavior. At a minimum, you should expect to be asked if you have read the agreement, if you believe it is fair and reasonable, and if you are prepared to abide by it. The Wife may be asked if she wishes to resume her maiden name, or to confirm that she wishes to maintain her married name. The judge will ask the parties if their financial statements are accurate.
During your hearing there will be an audio “record” of the proceeding and it is perfectly “legal” to read your answers into the record. The judge will usually want to know the date of marriage, the place of marriage, the last address you and your spouse last lived together, the date of separation, the names and birth dates of the children and whether there is a continuing irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The judge will also ask questions relative to the case information statements and agreement.
Do not hesitate to call this office at 973-267-7555 if you need legal assistance in the future.
For more information about New Jersey Uncontested Divorces, please go to Marc P. Feldman’s Divorce Education Website.
The Law Office of Marc P. Feldman wishes you the best of health and happiness in the future