99% of New Jersey divorce cases settle prior to trial. That means they settle at some point before a judge issues a decision in the case. Some cases settle before either party even files for divorce, others settle on the courthouse steps the day of trial, or even as late as after a trial but before the judge has issued an opinion. But for the approximately 1% of cases that do not settle, or those that do not settle until the trial has commenced, a divorce trial must be undertaken.
What Should I Know About Divorce Trials?
It may take a year, or even two or more years before a court gets around to scheduling a divorce trial. Courts are often understaffed, with insufficient judges to cover the amount of cases pending. That means that justice may be delayed. It also means that it’s important to file appropriate motions or to negotiate appropriate relief while a divorce is pending. Some divorces take longer than the underlying marriage.
Even if you hope to avoid a trial, it’s important that you and your attorney plan ahead for potential contested litigation. As the cliche goes, the best defense is a good offense. By being consistent and firm in your negotiations, your discovery requests, and so on, you stand a better chance of settling your case. It’s always best to negotiate from a position of strength. If a settlement cannot be quickly negotiated, then it may be time to consider litigation strategies.
Another thing to know about New Jersey divorce trials is that they are considered “bench trials.” That means that unlike many other areas of the law, divorce trials are not decided by a jury. Divorce and family law matters are simply too complex, often times turning on complicated financial documents. Family law judges are considered experts of this practice area, and one such judge will be the sole decider of your case should it proceed to contested litigation.
Although many divorces detour into mediation, collaborative law, or even arbitration, the vast majority of contested cases proceed via the “FM” docket (e.g., the divorce docket) in one of our twenty-one county courts.
What if I Don’t Want to Try My Case?
Divorce cases proceed until there is a trial, or until both sides come to a written agreement for their case. That means that to some extent the divorce is in your hands, and to some extent it is not. For instance, you can always settle a case, but what if your spouse is being ridiculous in their settlement demands. Think for a moment about how hard it is to negotiate anything, and that gives you an idea of how divorce negotiations can go (or turn sideways), especially when you’re negotiating with someone you may no longer personally like.
But it does mean that you have some control over how to proceed, and as to whether you will proceed all the way to a trial. Because the truth is:
It’s rarely beneficial to be in the one percent of cases that do go to trial. Except in cases with extensive assets, or if the other side is being completely unreasonable, the amount of time spent, legal fees and court costs expended, and personal stress endured often make settlement preferable to trial. Not to mention that trials may be scheduled one day at a time over a period of weeks and months. And even after a trial, it may take weeks or even months for a judge to issue an opinion. Trials can also lead to appeals, which may further delay justice in your case and increase fees.
When to Try a Case and When to Settle
Every case is different and at our firm we treat each case as the unique entity that it is. We do not suggest that every case should be tried, or that every case should go to mediation. Nuance is the key to divorce law—finding the specific tactics, strategies, and laws applicable to your specific case.
As early as the Initial Consultation we will discuss your options and how to proceed. We will tailor a strategy and adjust it as necessary throughout our representation. In this way, we are able to work toward achieving our clients’ specific goals.
After all, it is ultimately your case, not ours.
We look forward to hearing from you and discussing your case whether it is an uncontested divorce or contested litigation. We do not shy away from conflict, but we also take into account the time and resources available. Every case should be viewed through a cost-benefit analysis, to determine exactly what is stake, and the resources necessarily expended to chase those results.
We will utilize honest and open communication to discuss your case. Our goal is to treat you the way we would want to be treated if we were sitting on the other side of the desk.