There are nine NJ Grounds For Divorce.
In the order that they appear in the NJ Divorce Statute, they are: adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, 18 months separation, habitual drunkenness, institutionalization for mental illness, imprisonment, deviant sexual conduct, and irreconcilable differences.
But the order in which they appear in the statute is meaningless.
What is meaningful, and something that you should know if you are considering divorce in NJ, is that today most New Jersey divorce cases are filed under that last ground, namely "irreconcilable differences."
Well, I think the reason is that it is much less offensive for most people to be charged with "irreconcilable differences" than any of the other grounds (except 18 months separation, and most people do not want to wait a year and a half before starting their divorce.)
In order to get divorced in NJ based upon "irreconcilable differences," you don't have to prove much.
Indeed, all you have to prove is that you have differences that cannot be reconciled, that these differences have caused your marriage to break down, and that the break down in your marriage caused by these differences have lasted for at least the past 6 months.
You then need to allege that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
That's it. That's what you need to prove to obtain a divorce in New Jersey based upon "irreconcilable differences."
But many people tell me, "I want to file for divorce based upon adultery because he cheated." or, "Why can't I file charges based upon extreme cruelty? The things that she's done to me were cruel?"
"Well," I tell them, "you can."
Indeed, to get divorced based upon adultery in New Jersey, you simply need to allege that the adultery took place with another individual. You don't even need to list the name if you don't know it. The reality is that no one is going to force you to prove that your spouse had sex with someone else and you will usually be able to obtain a divorce based upon adultery if you make those allegations in your divorce complaint.
The same thing is true for alleging extreme cruelty. Extreme cruelty is defined as any physical or mental cruelty which endangers your safety or health, or which makes it improper or unreasonable to expect you to continue to live with your spouse. You simply list the allegations of "extreme cruelty" in your divorce complaint and, just like adultery, the judge is usually not going to require you to prove that the extreme cruelty alleged as your grounds for divorce in court actually happened exactly the way that you say that they happened. Simply listing your allegations, along with a sworn statement by you that the allegations are true, will almost always be enough and you will likely be divorced based upon your sworn allegations of "extreme cruelty."
So why would I encourage a prospective client who really does have "fault grounds" like adultery or extreme cruelty to seriously consider not filing for divorce based upon adultery or extreme cruelty?
Well, having done nothing but divorce here in Monmouth County, New Jersey for over 32 years, I have seen what happens when one spouse makes allegations against the other spouse, even if those allegations are 100% true (which obviously they must be in order to make those allegations without lying to the Court, which no one should ever do.)
It's like two kids on the playground. One child accuses the other of something. The other child, rather than taking a deep thought and saying, "Hey, did I really do that?" instead says, "Oh yeah? Well you did this to me…"
And it goes on and on, back and forth.
Who are the victims of these allegations really?
Unfortunately, often it is the children.
The children are now living with parents who are fighting over who did what to who.
The alternative is to help clients focus on, "How do we deal with the issues that are in dispute between us, so as to minimize the cost to us and to minimize the impact of this process on our family?"
Another way of saying this is that it is more useful and productive for someone going through a divorce in NJ to focus on their goals.
Similar arguments can be made for the remaining five potential causes of action for divorce in New Jersey. A prospective client could list any of those five: desertion, addiction, institutionalization for mental illness, imprisonment for 18 consecutive months, or deviant sexual conduct - - and obtain a divorce.
But, like alleging adultery or extreme cruelty, these types of allegations can be very offensive to the other spouse and can cause your divorce to become more complicated, longer, more expensive, and more damaging to the parties and to their children. No one wants that.
And so irreconcilable differences, which has now been the law in New Jersey for the past 12 years, has really become the "default provision" of most NJ divorce cases.
Indeed, since the adoption of New Jersey's "irreconcilable differences" statute over 12 years ago, of all the divorce cases that my office has filed, I can't think of more than 1 or 2 that were filed on any grounds other than "irreconcilable differences."
And this has made a tremendous positive difference in the quality of the lives of both the divorcing couples and their children.