Do NJ Grounds for Divorce Really Matter?

racecar named "Ground for Divorce"

No, thank God.

Since January 2007 NJ grounds for divorce have included  "irreconcilable differences.”

What are irreconcilable differences? Anything.

What is interesting is that prior to the irreconcilable differences law, although there were quite a few different NJ grounds for divorce, most divorce lawyers, including me, filed most of our divorce complaints based upon "extreme cruelty.”

What exactly is extreme cruelty? Well… pretty much anything.

Then what was the big deal about the introduction of the "irreconcilable differences" law seven years ago? I mean, if anything constitutes irreconcilable differences, and if anything constituted extreme cruelty in the old days, what's the big deal?

The big deal is that since the passage of the irreconcilable differences statute seven years ago, now that people can get divorced simply because they have differences that can't be reconciled, that's all they need to list in their divorce papers as their grounds for divorce.

In the old days, before the irreconcilable differences statute was passed here in New Jersey, someone seeking a divorce here had to make out a true case for divorce based upon one of the then stated grounds for divorce in NJ, which almost always turned out to be extreme cruelty.

In those days, most judges would accept anything that one person said about the other as meeting the requirements of "extreme cruelty."

But the law encouraged people to air all of their dirty laundry in the guise of pleading a cause of action for divorce based upon extreme cruelty, and when the receiving spouse read the allegations of"extreme cruelty" alleged against him or her, he or she would often get very upset.

The problem is that this unfortunate situation would often cause the divorce to start off on the wrong foot in many cases, leading to much unnecessary pain for parents and children, and perhaps huge legal fees because one party was hurt about what the other party said about them and thus "retaliated" with litigation tactics that often were unnecessary and counterproductive.

Today, some states don't have an irreconcilable differences statute as part of their grounds for divorce, and other states, including Kansas, are unfortunately considering getting rid of it.

In fact, in a recent article in Wellcommons, the authors state:

Rep. Keith Esau…has introduced a bill to abolish no-fault divorce by removing “incompatibility” as a legitimate reason to split. Esau and colleagues think it’s too easy to divorce.

Why is this a bad idea?

The authors think it's a bad idea because:

The only way to have an authentic choice to stay married is to have an authentic choice not to. Limit divorce and marriage not only becomes impractical, it becomes meaningless. Marriage is something you get up every day and decide to do, not a prison sentence for earlier bad choices, in which you're condemned to serve out your time. That's what it means to say "I do" and keep saying it for as long as the marriage endures. No law can say it for you.

I advocated strongly for the passage of New Jersey's irreconcilable differences statute as an addition to the grounds for divorce in NJ prior to the passage of this law. As a New Jersey divorce lawyer for many years, I saw how much damage the prior laws had done.

We have been fortunate here in New Jersey for the past seven years that our legislature finally enacted an irreconcilable differences statute for those people who are seeking to divorce amicably. The people of Kansas should do that which is necessary to defeat Rep. Keith Esau's bill seeking to do away with the concept of divorce by irreconcilable differences.

 

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