Divorces, child custody disputes waiting years for hearings in New Jersey
You want a divorce, but you can't get in front of a judge to iron out all the details and officially move on.
For countless couples in New Jersey, that's been the struggle for years, due to a significant backlog at the Superior Court level.
Despite some progress earlier this month, nearly 60 Superior Court judge seats remain vacant in the Garden State.
Backlog of court cases are skyrocketing in NJ
"The state really needs to understand the impact that this is having on families," said Jessica Swenson, partner and chair of the family law department at Curcio Mirzaian Sirot in Roseland.
Swenson said her office saw a sizeable increase in filings for divorce, as well as domestic violence matters, when the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey in 2020. The push caused an already existing backlog to skyrocket.
Now, as families wait to get in front of a judge — Swenson's office has heard that some hearings may not be possible until the end of 2023 — they're left in limbo, in a less-than-ideal home situation.
"You have couples who have decided to end their marriage, who are forced to stay in the same household, because people can't afford to reside in two separate homes before the divorce is finalized," she said. "And when there are children involved in those scenarios, they're really the victims here."
Who or what is to blame?
As is the case on the Supreme Court level, nominations for Superior Court judge are made by Gov. Phil Murphy. The state Senate approved four names in the second week of August, but 59 seats remain vacant across the state, and more judges are expected to retire by the end of the year, according to Swenson.
Gov. Murphy has nominated dozens of names for Superior Court in 2022; most have been confirmed.
At the same time, three of New Jersey's seven Supreme Court seats remain vacant.