How to Withdraw a Divorce Complaint in New Jersey
By Beverly Bird
Not everyone is unequivocally sure they want to end their marriage. They may file a divorce complaint in the heat of anger, only to calm down a little later. They may have thought about divorce for some time, only to realize that it may be possible to reconcile. If this happens to you and you change your mind after filing for divorce, and if you happen to live in New Jersey, withdrawing your complaint is a relatively simple process.
If Your Spouse Has Not Been Served
Call the county sheriff, if you’ve submitted your divorce complaint to the sheriff for service on your spouse. Sheriff's service is the usual method of service in New Jersey.
Tell the Sheriff's Department that you’ve changed your mind and you don’t want your spouse served.
Pick up your paperwork so a deputy doesn’t deliver it by mistake should there be a breakdown of communication within the department.
Wait approximately three months. If you don’t serve your spouse with your divorce complaint within this reasonable amount of time, New Jersey considers this a “failure to prosecute." Eventually, the court’s computer will trigger an alert that you filed a complaint, but then you did nothing further. In most counties, you’ll receive a letter from the court telling you a judge will dismiss your complaint as of a certain date if you don’t take action.
Respond to the letter in writing, giving the court your consent to dismiss. Alternatively, you can do nothing. If the court doesn't hear from you, a judge will administratively dismiss your complaint as of the date of the letter.
If Your Spouse Has Been Served
Prepare a stipulation of dismissal if you didn’t change your mind in time to prevent your spouse from being served with the divorce complaint. This document consists of one simple paragraph and is not state-specific.
Copy the caption from your divorce complaint onto a separate sheet of paper. Where your complaint says “complaint for divorce,” write “stipulation of dismissal” instead. Below the caption, write a paragraph stating that you’re stipulating that your complaint is dismissed “without prejudice.” Without prejudice means that you’re free to file for divorce again, at a later date, if you change your mind again and want to move forward so it's important to include this language.
Draw a signature line for yourself under the paragraph in which you stipulate your dismissal. If your spouse has filed answering pleadings to your complaint, he will have to sign the stipulation as well. This indicates that he’s in agreement with terminating your divorce litigation.
File your stipulation in the same courthouse where you filed your complaint for divorce. The court will dismiss your complaint.
You can also prepare and file a stipulation of dismissal if you don’t want to wait for the court to administratively dismiss your complaint for failure to prosecute. Although waiting requires no action on your part, filing a stipulation of dismissal is a definitive end to your case so you’re not leaving anything in limbo. If you choose to write a stipulation of dismissal, take it to an attorney for review or call your local paralegal association to ask someone to look it over for you. This ensures your stipulation accurately expresses your intentions.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.