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Can I File a Case for Legal Separation in New Jersey?
How can I obtain a legal separation in New Jersey?

There is no formal case called a legal separation in New Jersey. There is no docket number for a legal separation case. However, there are some scenarios wherein a legal separation may be advisable instead of filing for a standard divorce case. Filing for divorce may not solve all of your life's problems. The cold hard reality is that your life after you get divorced may actually be worse instead of better. Therefore, if you are not sure that you want to get a divorce then you should look into executing a separation agreement with your spouse.

Alternatively, you could also look into filing for a limited divorce. This type of divorce is called also called a divorce from bed and board. After the divorce from bed and board is finalized, then the parties will still be legally married. However, they will be considered to have had an economic divorce.

In many other states there are formal separation cases. However, these cases don't exist in the Garden State. Nonetheless, if the parties are civil and agreeable with each other, then they can enter into a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement is also commonly referred to as a marital settlement agreement, an inter-spousal agreement, or a property settlement agreement. A separation agreement can be executed by the parties without ever obtaining a divorce. The parties can reach an agreement on all issues of support, a parenting plan, health and life insurance issues, and equitable distribution and then have this agreement typed up. Finally, a separated spouse can also file a complaint with the family court to seek child support, spousal support, or custody without even filing for divorce.

Why should I try to obtain a separation agreement instead of just filing for divorce?

There are many pros and cons to obtaining a separation agreement as compared to simply filing for divorce. The benefits of trying to obtain a separation agreement is that you may need time to sort out whether getting divorced is the right decision for you. Sometimes you just need some time away from each other to repair the marital relationship. Believe me getting a divorce is not going to solve all of your life's problems. Being single in New Jersey can be very expensive. New Jersey is widely regarded as one of the most expensive states to live in. The yearly property taxes equal or exceed mortgage payments for many people who live in other states. Therefore, you should think it over many times before you get a divorce. If you should decide to ultimately get a divorce then odds are you will be required to significantly downsize your lifestyle. The judge will only require your ex-husband to pay so much for child support and alimony. The judge will still permit your ex-husband to keep at least 40% of his paycheck. In summary, in many cases you won't be able to maintain the same standard of living if you get a divorce. Therefore, obtaining a separation agreement may give you and your husband time to think over the future, and develop a plan to repair the marital relationship.

Alternatively, there are many drawbacks to having a separation agreement. Some devious husbands may try to dissipate and hide marital assets during the period of separation. This is a legitimate and grave concern. If a devious husband knows that a divorce is coming then he may try to hide marital assets, transfer assets to other friends or family, or transfer assets overseas. If you give a devious spouse time, then he can really make many marital assets disappear, impossible to trace, or very hard to reach. In summary, the decision whether to pursue a separation or a divorce is a very difficult decision indeed. If the couple has very limited assets and if they are not certain whether a divorce is the right decision, then they really have nothing to lose by trying a separation. Meanwhile, if the husband has "big bucks" then a separation may only give him time to hide and dissipate marital assets.

If I obtain a separation agreement, do I have to file an application with the court to have it approved?

No, you are not required to file any type of court application to have a separation agreement approved by the court. However, separation agreements can come back to haunt you. Frequently, a spouse who cheats will "give away the store" and agree to unreasonable child support and temporary alimony amounts. Therefore, if the parties ultimately decide to pursue a divorce, then the spouse with the sweet deal will try to have the separation agreement enforced as a property settlement agreement. In summary, the spouse with the sweet deal will try to the make the terms of the separation agreement permanent and part of the final judgment of divorce.

It could take inches of paperwork and years of litigation to undo an unfair separation agreement. Moreover, if the separation agreement is vague, then it may be difficult to determine whether the agreement is in fact a true separation agreement or a final property agreement. I have had a case wherein the parties had no assets and the case should have been a breeze. However, the parties litigated their case for well over a year. The major issue was whether a separation agreement was in fact a property settlement agreement, or whether it was just an interim agreement. The case was a nightmare, and the parties wasted all of their life savings to litigate this legal issue. The case took more than one year to litigate.

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New Jersey has five types of spousal support. Rehabilitative alimony is a short-term monetary award that allows a spouse to go back to school or obtain training to re-enter the workforce. Limited duration alimony is awarded in cases of a short marriage when rehabilitative alimony doesn't apply. Reimbursement alimony is awarded when one spouse makes a personal sacrifice so that the other spouse could receive professional or career training. Alimony pendente lite is awarded when a divorce is pending so that both parties can maintain their current standard of living until a final judgment is made. Finally, there is permanent alimony which is usually appropriate in long term marriages and typically terminates upon the death of either party or remarriage.
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