Divorcing a spouse who lives in another state has its challenges, but you can do it. The end of your marriage shouldn’t be put on hold simply because you are in different states. There are specific procedures you can follow that can help you get started.
To divorce a spouse in another state, you can:
- Determine whether you will file a fault or no-fault divorce
- Determine whether you can file your divorce in a New Jersey Court;
- If so, serve the divorce complaint on your spouse
- Begin negotiating divorce proceedings.
These steps and several others can happen even when your spouse does not live in New Jersey. A qualified New Jersey divorce lawyer knows how to help you file your divorce correctly and protect your rights throughout the process.
Where to File for Divorce If Spouses Live in Different States
Many people ask: Can you file for divorce if your spouse lives in another state? The simple answer is yes. In fact, you can get divorced even if you are not in the state that issued the marriage license. You simply need to comply with the residency requirements of your specific state to file a divorce case.
These residency requirements must be met by at least one spouse. That means that to file a divorce in New Jersey, either you or your current spouse must live in New Jersey for a certain amount of time unless you have an exception to the rule. It does not require that both of you must live within the state to file for a divorce.
Residency Requirements for Filing a Divorce Against a Non-Resident Spouse
To file for divorce within the State of New Jersey, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for a minimum of one year before you are able to file for divorce within the state but there is one exception to this rule explained below. In most cases, either you or your spouse must be a New Jersey resident for this one-year period, and if not or you don’t meet the exception, you may have to file your divorce in another state where you do meet the residency requirements.
There is one exception to this one-year rule, which is when the grounds for the divorce are adultery. To meet this exception, your divorce must:
- Provide adultery as the grounds for your divorce;
- Have some proof that your spouse cheated on you
- State that the cheating was the reason your marriage has ended.
A knowledgeable attorney can help you determine whether you meet the legal requirements and when you would meet them.
An important thing to keep in mind is that even if you don’t meet any qualifications and you want to try to file for divorce in New Jersey, you can try and if the other side isn’t aware of the residency requirements, they may inadvertently and voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction of New Jersey.
Common Out-of-State Residency Examples
There are several situations that may lead to spouses’ living in separate states. These common examples may be what you are going through. No matter your situation, you deserve to be able to divorce your spouse no matter where they live.
If you or your spouse is a member of the military, it may require the service member to be outside New Jersey for their duties. If they are still a resident of New Jersey, even while outside of it, they likely qualify for the residency requirements under state law.
The same is true if the military member is living internationally. So long as at least one spouse meets the residency requirements, you can still file your divorce in New Jersey.
Separation Before Divorce
It is common for couples to separate before they are legally divorced. Sometimes that means one spouse even moves away as you start separate lives. This common scenario will still let you file for divorce even though your spouse now lives in another state.
Relocation for Work
Another common scenario is when one spouse moves elsewhere for work. This can often create a rift in the marriage that leads to divorce. It may also be because you both knew the marriage wasn’t working.
Whatever the reason, an out-of-state spouse can still be divorced as long as you follow New Jersey divorce law.
Serving the Divorce Papers on an Out-of-State Spouse
It can be a special challenge to serve divorce papers on a spouse who lives outside the state. If your spouse lives outside of New Jersey, you can serve divorce papers in three ways:
- Sheriff Service: The sheriff in the county where your spouse lives can serve the complaint. There might be fees or mileage charges associated with this type of service.
- Service by Mail: New Jersey law allows you to serve the divorce complaint by certified mail. This method requires the spouse to sign that they received the divorce complaint.
- Process Serving Company: There are companies that personally serve people with their divorce complaints. This is especially helpful when your spouse does not live in New Jersey or is trying to avoid service of the divorce complaint.
What If I Don’t Know Where My Spouse Is?
When you do not know where your spouse is located, you will not be able to use these traditional means of service. However, your attorney can still mail the paperwork to the spouse’s last known address if you know it. Your attorney may also be able to serve the complaint by “publication,” which means to put it in certain newspapers and comply with specific legal requirements for that type of service.
You will need to show you took extensive efforts to locate your spouse to serve by publication. These efforts could include, but are not limited to:
- Inquiring of your spouse’s family, friends, employers, or other contacts to try to find a current address
- Send letters to branches of the military to determine if your spouse enlisted
- Send a letter to the Motor Vehicle Commission where your spouse last had a driver’s license.
An attorney understands how to handle this unique situation and help you get the divorce you need.
How to Divorce a Spouse in Another State
Service of Process
When you file your divorce petition, those papers must be served on your spouse. Service of process ensures that your spouse receives the notice of the divorce complaint and is given the appropriate amount of time to file a response.
Out-of-state service sometimes requires following special rules, but a divorce attorney understands these rules and how to serve your spouse no matter where they live.
Answer or Counterclaim
Once you have filed your divorce complaint, the other spouse will need to answer that complaint within a specified timeframe. This response is necessary for the other spouse to participate in the divorce process.
Even if the other spouse would refuse to respond, you can proceed with a default divorce so long as the divorce complaint was properly served. However, if you were served a divorce complaint, it is imperative that you work with an attorney to file an answer within the time frame. Your rights as a spouse, parent, and more are impacted when you do not answer these legal documents.
Meeting Between the Parties
Once your case starts, you will meet with your divorce attorney to go over key matters about your divorce. This could include, but is not limited to:
Once you have met with your attorney, you will begin negotiations with your spouse and their attorney. For spouses in other states, modern technology makes it easy to negotiate even from thousands of miles away. Phone calls, emails, video conferencing, and much more make remote negotiation easy. If you are able to negotiate everything about your divorce, your attorney can draft a “Marital Settlement Agreement” you both can sign.
Divorce Mediation for Spouses in Different States
If there are any issues you cannot resolve in your divorce, there are several mediation steps that may help. New Jersey courts offer an Early Settlement Panel that is free and may help address the issues you face in your divorce.
If you cannot agree there, the court will order you to go to private mediation, which is not free. Private mediation uses a neutral third party who helps you work through your contested issues and tries to find common ground. You and your attorney will participate along with your spouse and their attorney. Mediation can and is likely conducted virtually as well so this is would not be an obstacle if your spouse lives a distance away. Also, you and your spouse, with the assistance of counsel, can agree to attend private mediation at any time in the process voluntarily. There is a lot more criteria to know before you go this route so check out the other pages on this topic.
If mediation cannot resolve the issues at this stage, the divorce will go to trial. But not many cases go to trial for a lot of reasons, so please don’t lose sleep over this right now but good to know that if a compromise cannot be reached, this would be the last resort.
The divorce trial will occur in front of a judge in a New Jersey court. Both parties must attend, even if one spouse lives out of state. Trials are now mostly in person. This can be a lengthy and extraordinarily costly process that occurs over several days or weeks. Getting a decision from the judge can take even longer.
Get Help Divorcing a Spouse in Another State
Only one of you needs to meet the New Jersey residency requirements to file your divorce here. The Men’s & Father’s Rights Divorce Lawyers by Schultz & Associates, LLC knows how to handle out-of-state divorce situations and protect your rights. This time is difficult enough, but we are here to help you get a divorce from your spouse in another state.
We can educate you about your rights and help you protect them every step of the way. We have tough litigators who are ready to handle your unique case no matter how complicated.
Call us today at 201-880-9770 or contact us for your confidential consultation to see how we can help you and your family through this process so everyone can begin to heal and rebuild for a better future.