Is Emotional Abuse Grounds for Divorce?

How Emotional Abuse & Verbal Abuse Affect Divorce

To obtain a Judgment of Divorce from a New Jersey court, the first document that will be filed with the court is called a “Complaint for Divorce.”  The Complaint for Divorce must state the reason or “grounds” for seeking the divorce.

In New Jersey, there are ten (10) different grounds for divorce, none of which expressly include “emotional abuse.”  However, that does not mean that owsomeone who suffers from emotional abuse is unable to get a divorce in New Jersey.

Extreme Cruelty

“Extreme cruelty” is one of the grounds for divorce in New Jersey.  Although the name sounds like it would require very harsh action, under New Jersey divorce law extreme cruelty can include either physical or mental cruelty which makes it unreasonable for someone to stay married.

Significantly, New Jersey divorce judges recognize that it is not the role of the court to impose its judgment as to what is or is not reasonable.  If the Complaint for Divorce describes in sufficient detail the conduct which, in the plaintiff’s view, constituted emotional abuse and makes it unreasonable to stay married, and confirms under oath that the contents of the Complaint are true, the court will accept that testimony and grant the divorce as long as all of the other jurisdictional requirements have been met.

The Real Question

Although it is clear that mental abuse (including emotional abuse) will justify a New Jersey court to grant a divorce, the real question is: ”In my New Jersey Complaint for Divorce, should I describe the mental abuse and ask for a divorce on the grounds of ‘extreme cruelty,’ or should I base my request for a divorce on one of the ‘no fault’ grounds, such as “irreconcilable differences?”

The answer is: “It depends.”

In many cases, the couple has resolved everything and has signed a document called a “Marital Settlement Agreement” before the Complaint for Divorce is even filed.  In that event, the Complaint for Divorce simply serves as the vehicle for obtaining the Judgment of Divorce on an “uncontested” basis and for making the Settlement Agreement a part of the Judgment of Divorce.

Almost always in that situation, the grounds for divorce stated in the Complaint for Divorce are the “no fault” grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” which simply require: (1) a breakdown of the marriage that has lasted at least six months, and (2) no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. Clearly, seeking a divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” will be less offensive to the other party than asking for a divorce based on the other party’s “extreme cruelty,” and in the interest of finalizing the divorce and closing this chapter of life, it may be more beneficial to choose this route instead of extreme cruelty.

On the other hand, if when the Complaint for Divorce is filed, there are significant issues between the parties related to the abuse—for example, when there is a claim by the filing party that he/she is entitled to damages from the other party because of “a marital tort” (such as transmission of an STD, assault and battery, rape, or other act of domestic violence), the filing party should detail the facts underlying the claim in a Complaint for Divorce based on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

The Importance of Good Legal Representation

Choosing the grounds for seeking a divorce in the Complaint is an important decision which should not be made without full knowledge of its implications.  That is why it is so important for you to have an attorney who is thoroughly familiar with New Jersey divorce law.

At Lyons & Associates, P.C., our skilled and knowledgeable attorneys have extensive experience in addressing this issue. We invite you to contact us online or give us a call at our office at 908-575-9777 to schedule an appointment.

By: David F. Salvaggio, Esq.