31 Aug I’m considering divorce. How long will it take with all those judicial vacancies?
Q. I keep hearing about how there aren’t enough judges. I was planning a divorce but I haven’t met with a lawyer yet. How long should a divorce take — there are no children involved — and will the judge shortage make it worse?
— Spouse, for now
A. You’re correct that there is a large number of judicial vacancies in New Jersey.
It’s having huge effects across the state, severely limiting New Jerseyans access to the courts.
In divorce court, 10 counties are not able to hear divorce trials because they are short on judges, said Jeralyn Lawrence, a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung. In another four counties, trial dates are being handed out but very sparingly and extremely few and far between, she said.
“There is one vacancy for every six judges,” said Lawrence, who also serves as the president of the New Jersey State Bar Association. “We are at historic levels of judicial vacancies with no relief in sight as the governor and legislature are not acting swiftly enough to fill these vacancies.”
If you are able to settle your divorce case and sign a marital settlement agreement, resolving all issues in your divorce, your divorce can be processed by submitting the divorce paperwork through the mail to the court and without ever having to go to court, Lawrence said.
“This process of getting a filed final judgment of divorce on the papers and through the mail used to take four to six weeks from when you have a signed agreement,” she said. “It can now take as long as 10 weeks to get your signed and filed final judgment of divorce back from the court but you can still get divorced and in a reasonable amount of time.”
If, however, you are unable to resolve your divorce amicably and need the court’s intervention, you will likely be in a very long line of litigants waiting for their day in court and your divorce case will linger until a judge is available to hear your case, she said.
“The judicial vacancy catastrophe is wreaking havoc on families, children and the people who need access to the court. It is depriving people the ability to rely on courts to resolve disputes,” Lawrence said. “However, if you are able to do so on your own, you will be able to get divorced notwithstanding this terrible situation.”
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This story was originally published on Aug. 31, 2022.
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