1. What should I wear to court?
2. How long will my case take?
3. How much will it cost?
4. Can I win my case?
5. What are the grounds for divorce?
6. What is a no-fault divorce?
7. What is an uncontested divorce?
8. What happens at a divorce hearing?
9. Why do I have to go to a case management conference?
10. How much alimony is appropriate, and for how long?
11. What is Case Management and Why is it needed?
In Bergen County, some 3,000 cases a year are added to the divorce docket. About the same number are disposed of annually. Some cases are no-asset, uncontested matters, and others are dismissed because the parties reconcile. However, most of the divorce litigation requires court intervention at some point – or at several points.The timetable for the average case anticipates its being concluded within a year of filing the complaint. Some matter, because of their complexity, the appearance of new issues, illness or some other reason, may require a longer time to conclude. Of these 3,000 annual filings, less than 50 will be tried to conclusion. This means that nearly 98% of dissolution cases filed are resolved without trial – by settlement that comes about in various ways. Sometimes the parties and their attorneys will meet several times to work out an agreement. These are called “four-way conferences”. Or the parties and their counsel will be court-ordered to attend a Mandatory Early Settlement Panel (MESP), which consists of three lawyers experienced in family matters who will review the parties’ positions and make recommendations for settlement. If a case is resolved by the panel, a judge will hear the divorce as an uncontested matter, with the terms of the settlement recommendations as the basis for further settlement discussions on their own.A divorce case cannot be tried, nor can intelligent, meaningful settlement discussions be conducted unless and until all the underlying information (mostly financial) is available and the parties’ respective positions are put forth. At the Case Management Conference, each case is put on a “track” (priority, expedited, standard or complex) and a schedule is set through which this information may be obtained in an orderly manner.
First is a determination whether or not there is dispute over child custody or parenting time. If so, the case will be designated a “priority” case. Litigants must certify it to be a genuine issue and not merely strategy or manifestation of a litigant’s annoyance with or defiance of the other party. Parents must be made aware of the effect their divorce is having and will have on their children. Litigation of a custody/parenting time arrangement should only be used when all other attempts at resolution have failed. It is the least desirable method. Involving children in their parents’ litigation can and likely will have a deleterious effect on them now and in the future. Children should perceive that decisions affecting their future are being made by their own parents and not by a third party (such as a judge).
If custody and/or parenting time are issues, the parties should have already attended a Parent Education Program. If the issues remain, the judge may order the parties to view two additional videotapes focusing on children and divorce. The parties should go to room 148 in the courthouse to schedule the viewing. Ultimately, they must prepare and sign a custody or parenting time through one of the services available. An order for mediation may be signed after the Case Management Conference. The parties must report to the Judge’s team for the order to be prepared or the parties may hire a private mediator.
If the parties are unable to settle the issue, it will be necessary to engage experts for psychological evaluation (each side’s expert can cost several thousand dollars). As an alternative to individual experts, the parties may agree to use a joint expert or may use Bergen Family Center, a private organization affiliated with the County, whose rates are based on ability-to-pay, with the top fee of $2,350. Custody issues cannot be decided merely on the basis of the litigants’ testimony.
The enclosed Notice for Case Management Conference is accompanied by a blank Case Management Order. You may complete a Case Management Consent Order on the form provided (leaving the date for the MESP blank) and cancel the scheduled Case Management Conference provided all of the following apply:
- Both parties’ Case Information Statements have been submitted to the Court.
- Both parties agree that discovery will be completed within 120 days of filing the complaint and agree that the case be assigned to the “standard track”.
- Both parties agree that there are no contested issues involving child custody or time sharing and no experts are required for business valuations, lifestyle analysis, vocational determinations, realty appraisals, pension appraisals, etc.
- The completed Consent Case Management Order is submitted to the court no less than five days prior to the scheduled Case Management Conference date.
- In the event that any one of these conditions is not met, both parties and their attorneys must be present at the scheduled Case Management Conference.
These procedures result from a joint effort between the bench and a select subcommittee of the Bergen County Bar Association Family Law Committee.