Can I Get Legally Separated In NJ? No, But We Can Help
Here in New Jersey, divorce can be a frightening undertaking. No matter how persistent and arduous the marital issues motivating the choice may have been, there is still fear. If you’re thinking about divorce, it’s quite normal to feel yourself in a state of crisis. With all the arising uncertainty, it’s natural to crave stability.
“Can I get legally separated in NJ?” Clients often ask me that question, and the answer is no—this is why there’s no filing for legal separation in NJ. However, executing a separation agreement—even though it’s not a legal separation agreement per se—can put some protection and stability in place for you. Some couples who are experiencing difficulties but are not yet ready to move forward with divorce may find some relief by entering into a separation agreement.
One of the primary concerns facing couples wishing to separate is how their rights might be affected if they leave the marital home.
Another concern is how their parenting rights could be later impacted if they adopt a temporary arrangement out of necessity that is vastly different from the custody arrangement they ultimately want.
“Should I leave my house when I am separating from my wife?” is a common question. The answer is different for every situation.
The courts rely upon the status quo. That means this: whatever couples have established over time, through their behaviors, is given significant weight by the court.
And the courts are reluctant to interfere with or change the “norm” without good cause. It is of no import that the status quo was established unconsciously or erroneously. That is why it is critically important that couples clearly and mindfully—and in writing!—make important decisions before entering a new arrangement.
You do not need an attorney to write a separation agreement; it can be done here in NJ through mediation. Couples work out an agreement that keeps them from relinquishing their rights while still allowing them to work through marital issues.
A separation agreement, interim agreement, or postnuptial agreement can serve as a tool to establish certain terms upon which both parties can depend while they figure out their next steps.
A separation agreement can immediately address issues causing stress and requiring immediate attention. Such issues may include custody and visitation of the children, household finances, budgets for living separately, and allocation of resources for a second residence.
Reaching agreement on these matters can give parties the confidence that some of the day-to-day issues are being managed, thus making room for them to address longer-term and more nuanced subjects from a more centered position.
I often tell clients there is no race to divorce—it is an option that will always be there. However, there is an urgency to moving one’s family and one’s self out of crisis. Developing a separation agreement can be a helpful instrument to foster security.
Options for executing a separation agreement depend upon the state in which you live. Whereas New York recognizes a legal separation agreement, there is no such thing as a legal separation agreement in New Jersey. There is also no filing for legal separation with the court — these agreements are executed separate from the court system.
A Legal Separation Agreement Doesn’t Exist in New Jersey — So What Now?
New Jersey does not recognize “separation” as a legal status. New Jersey recognizes parties as either being married or divorced. Therefore, in New Jersey, a legal separation agreement doesn’t exist as such—there is no filing for a legal separation agreement. That does not mean that couples have no comparable options. Rather than entering into a legal separation agreement, NJ couples can instead enter an agreement referred to as a contractual separation agreement, interim agreement, pendente lite agreement, or postnuptial agreement. Nothing created in mediation and executed by the parties is filed with the court unless and until a Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement is executed.
In mediation, clients work through all aspects of an agreement of this kind, just as they do when developing a final agreement. Whatever work is done in preparing an interim agreement can serve as the foundation for the larger, more inclusive divorce agreement, which, in New Jersey is called a Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement.
Such a contract allows individuals to protect themselves should the divorce move forward. You’re not merely entering a legal separation agreement (or comparable agreement)—you’re creating a contract that both parties agree to adhere to. You are not optionless simply because New Jersey does not provide a legal framework for separation and does not recognize a legal separation agreement the same way New York does. You can create and rely upon a contract to ensure that you have the stability to work through mediation. It helps couples protect what is working and address what isn’t.
If you’re considering divorce and you’re not sure what to do next, click here to contact us today. Divorcing couples have options. Understanding those options can help individuals move out of crisis and into possibility. We are committed to offering support and are here if you need us.