How to Settle a Divorce & Custody Case in New Jersey

Divorce (also called dissolution of marriage) is complicated — especially when children are involved. Settling can simplify the process by encouraging cooperation and compromise, as opposed to the divisive nature of litigation.

When divorcing parents settle, they draft a marital settlement agreement together, then file it with the court. (Non-divorcing parents settling custody follow a slightly different process.)

Note that parents cannot settle custody if Child Protective Services or a similar agency is involved in their case.

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An alternative dispute resolution method like mediation, which the court may require parents to take part in, can help you reach an agreement. You can also discuss settlement at court conferences.

Once parents have negotiated successfully, they follow the steps below, with minor variation by county.

An attorney or legal services office can guide you through the process and ensure your documents cover all the bases.

How the defendant's response affects the process

The last steps in the settling process depend on whether the defending parent responds to the initial divorce complaint.

If your spouse is in the military, you cannot get a divorce until they respond.

Non-military parents can settle without a response, but responding protects the defendant's right to contest if the plaintiff alters the agreement. Without a response, the defendant's only option for contesting is to appeal the judge's decision, and the appeals court is less likely to rule in favor of a defendant who chose not to respond.

Steps to settling

Step 1: Draft your marital settlement agreement

Draft a marital settlement agreement specifying terms for custody, child support, the division of assets and property, and all other divorce matters. You can hire an attorney to draft this or, if you can't afford an attorney, go to a legal services office for advice on how to write one.

If you prefer, you can put the terms for custody and child support in a parenting plan. You can use the Custody X Change template to save time and money.

After both parents sign the paperwork in front of a notary, make three copies.

Step 2: Open a case

If you haven't already, open a case.

If the defendant responds...

Step 3: Prepare your Final Judgment of Divorce

Fill out a Consent Order - Final Judgment of Divorce. Make two copies, then attach the original form to the original settlement agreement.

Step 4: File your paperwork

Take the original documents, plus an extra copy of the agreement, to the clerk in the court where you opened your case. Soon after, the court will send notice of your uncontested divorce hearing.

Step 5: Get your final orders

Both parents must attend the uncontested divorce hearing to confirm that they entered into the agreement willingly and waive their right to a trial. Bring the following items with you:

Be prepared to discuss your divorce complaint as well as the settlement agreement. The judge won't ask about the specifics of your agreement. Instead, they'll make sure you're settling and forgoing trial willingly.

At the end of the hearing, the judge will sign the Final Judgment of Divorce, as long as it meets the child's best interests. You can get a copy from the court clerk.

If the defendant does not respond...

Step 3: Complete your paperwork

Fill out the following forms, then make two copies of each:

Step 4: File your paperwork

Through certified mail, send the original forms with one copy of each to the Family Division of the Superior Court where you opened the case. Include your settlement agreement and a copy. However, do not sent the final default judgment (neither the original nor a copy).

Generally, you have to wait 35 days from serving the initial complaint to file these forms, but some courts waive the waiting period for parents who are settling.

Step 5: Notify the defendant of the default divorce hearing

Call the court clerk, and ask if it's possible to get a divorce without a court appearance. If so, skip to Step 6.

If not, call the clerk again about two weeks after filing your settlement paperwork. They will give you the date of your default divorce hearing.

Next, fill out a Notice of Default Divorce Hearing and Notice of Proposed Final Judgment, then make three copies of each. Attach a copy of your settlement agreement to the proposed judgment.

At least 20 days before the hearing, send the other parent the original notices and one copy of each through certified mail (with return receipt requested), as well as one copy of each via regular mail. Fill out a Certification of Service for each mailing.

Step 6: Get your final orders

If your court doesn't require a hearing, you must draft a certified statement with the other parent. (The court or an attorney can advise you on what to write.) Once both parents sign it in front of a notary, file it and the Final Default Judgment of Divorce (plus one copy) with the court. You'll receive a copy signed by the judge in the mail.

If your court requires a hearing, both parents should attend. Bring the following:

  • Copies of all filed paperwork
  • Final Default Judgment of Divorce, plus one copy
  • Notice of Default Divorce Hearing
  • Notice of Proposed Final Judgment
  • Certifications of Service with return receipt signed by the defendant

The judge will look over your paperwork, then ask about your divorce complaint and agreement. They won't focus on the specific terms but on whether you understand the settlement and waive your right to trial.

Once the judge signs the final default judgment, you can obtain a copy from the court clerk.

If the defendant did not attend the hearing, send them their copy of the signed judgment within seven days of the judge approving your settlement. To do so, follow the guidelines on the Certification of Service form. Then fill out this form, and file it with the court.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive a final judgment. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Prepare My New Jersey Plan Now

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