Obtaining an absolute divorce is the only time the court must be involved in the separation/divorce process because only the court can grant an absolute divorce judgment. It is common for parties to have already resolved all of their substantive divorce-related issues prior to the entry of the absolute divorce, often by entering into a separation agreement and property settlement. It is particularly important, however, for parties to resolve equitable distribution and spousal support prior to the time that a request for an absolute divorce is made; if these issues haven’t been resolved, then the claims must be filed in court prior to the entry of the divorce in order to preserve them.
When spouses have been living separate and apart from one another (separate residences, not simply separate bedrooms) for a year and a day, either spouse may apply to the court for a judgment of absolute divorce. A judgment of absolute divorce is a document signed by a judge that severs the bonds of matrimony, resulting in the parties no longer being husband and wife. One party will need to file a “Complaint” for absolute divorce to open a court file and serve the Complaint with a Civil Summons on the other party. It may take as much as eight weeks from the date of filing the Complaint for the absolute divorce to be final.
Parties who have attorneys typically do not appear in court on the day their divorce is entered; their attorney appears for them in a “summary judgment” proceeding. Spouses who handle the divorce filing themselves, without an attorney, are required to appear in court before the judge and answer questions under oath related to the requirements for an absolute divorce.