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We’ve signed our Agreement What is Next? Part 3

We’ve signed our Agreement… What is Next? III

III Filing for divorce, a few additional considerations,

Submitting the Pleadings, Service and Timeline


Costs to prepare and submit the pleadings include two factors: professional fees and court fees. The attorney who prepares and presents the pleadings will frequently provide a set rate or flat fee for this service. This cost will vary by attorney but is often a separate amount, independent of the amount of billable time required, and is a figure the attorney can provide upfront. Fees for preparing the pleadings vary based on the billing rates of individual professionals, the complexity, and the number of forms required in each state. 

It is important to note that the court revises and adds additional forms from time to time. The filing attorney will work with the clients and the court to ensure submissions are modified as needed to meet the changing standards (which occasionally change during a submission). Different clerks review the submissions, so occasionally, one clerk will reject a form that was wholly acceptable to every other clerk. The filing professional will manage these idiosyncrasies, but your cooperation and patience are most appreciated when, for example, an additional signature is required on a revised form.

Uncontested Filing Fees

The court fees, also called filing fees, are set by the court and available on the courts’ websites. Charges are linked to the specific document filed. One document may cost $50, another $25, and another $0. The fees are required, and amount to several hundred dollars in an uncontested NY or NJ divorce. Uncontested divorces are somewhat streamlined, generally requiring fewer documents, so court fees are less. The enormous savings in uncontested divorces are due to eschewing extensive litigations, that require hours of attorney time both in drafting lengthy submissions, appearing in court, and meeting court requirements such as formal discovery.

The current court fees in New Jersey are under $400; in New York, they are under $500. The court assigns a docket (NJ) or index (NY) number, and the case enters the legal system to be reviewed by a court clerk and then a judge. The granting of a Judgment of Divorce signifies the conclusion of the process, and its date is synonymous with the day on which the parties are legally divorced. 

In the event a party fails to uphold the agreement or has a significant change in circumstances affecting their ability to comply, either party can Motion the court to enforce or modify the agreement, respectively. Notably, the court will have the authority to enforce the agreement if either party fails to uphold their end. Should either party seek the court’s intervention, the court shall have authority to address the matter. In every situation, a party seeking relief of any kind will have to formally submit a Motion (a variety of specific documents, including back-up documentation) to the court. The court does not automatically intervene of its own accord. 

In mediated, uncontested divorces, parties are encouraged to return to mediation to resolve any future disputes, before seeking court intervention. Most issues can be effectively resolved in mediation for a fraction of the cost.

Process service or service of divorce papers can be a dramatic and unnecessarily traumatic event in a traditional divorce. Often represented in theatrical fiction with a chap dressed as a bush jumping out of the hedges and alarming and embarrassing an unexpecting party, usually going about their business among work colleagues or family, exclaiming “You’ve been served!” This is something to which we give a hard pass and opt out of entirely. 

Divorce is stressful enough, we needn’t have process servers putting parties in fear of cardiac arrest.

In lieu of “serving” a client with papers, we opt for an egalitarian and transparent process. The mediation attorney works with both clients in the same open and collaborative manner in which the mediation was conducted.  Both parties receive all documents at the same time --  regardless of whose signature is required where and which party is the identified plaintiff or defendant. The filing is a fluid extension of the mediation, and the comfort and care developed during the mediation sessions can support this more sterile and sometimes Kafkaesque portion of the process. 

Timeline and electronic filing — fortunately/unfortunately

Once the pleadings and required fees are in the hands of the court, patience and follow-up are both required, not necessarily in equal measure.  One outcome of the COVID crisis is that both New York and New Jersey courts accept electronic filing for divorces. Prior to COVID, the courts required the original documents with wet signatures.  With electronic filing, spouses can sign forms, scan, and email them to the attorney, rather than mailing originals, which must then be mailed to the court, and so forth. The drawback is that the electronic filing system is still fairly new for matrimonial filings, thus there are some kinks, delays, and complications as courts adjust to and continue to refine this new system. 

Once the filing has been submitted, clients may wish to set a tickler in their calendars to check back with their filing professional after about 8 weeks. The filing attorney and the clients can reach out to the court for status updates and to ensure the process is moving along.  In New Jersey, the processing time varies, but is generally a couple of months.  In New York, particularly in Manhattan, the processing time can take up to a year given their substantial backlog of uncontested divorces awaiting processing.


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