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."
It is much less offensive for most people to be charged with irreconcilable differences than it is any of the other grounds (except 18 months separation, and who wants 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 of opinion that cannot be reconciled, that these differences of opinion have caused your marriage to break down, and that the break down in your marriage caused by these differences of opinion lasted at least 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 ask me, "Why can't I file for divorce based upon adultery? 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 the safety or health of you, or which makes it improper or unreasonable to expect you to continue to live with your spouse. You would simply list the allegations of cruelty in your complaint and, just like adultery, the judge is usually not going to require you to prove the extreme cruelty allegations as your grounds for divorce in court in order for you to get a divorce. Simply listing them and alleging them will almost always be enough and you will ultimately be divorced based upon extreme cruelty.
So why would I encourage a prospective client 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 30 years, I have seen what happens when one spouse makes allegations against the other spouse, even if those allegations are largely true or even entirely true.
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?
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.
And so irreconcilable differences, which has now been the law in New Jersey for the past 10 years, has really become the "default provision" of most divorces.
Indeed, since the adoption of New Jersey's irreconcilable differences statute over 10 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.
READ MORE ABOUT NJ GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE