Filing for Divorce

Anyone filing for divorce must become familiar with the documents required in the jurisdiction where the action happens. Every state has somewhat different paperwork requirements. The best way do start is to check the county’s family court website, speak to the court clerk or consult with a family law attorney, and learn what documents must be filed. Uncontested actions lend themselves to pro se filing.

The route to an uncontested divorce is normally much shorter and smoother than one where one spouse files a reply contesting the action.

Many divorces that begin contested become uncontested as the action proceeds. While the names of the documents may vary, here are the documents that a normally filed in a divorce action:

> The Petition. The petition starts the action. The petitioner (who may be called the plaintiff) states the grounds for the divorce based on the state’s law. Often, in on-fault actions, the grounds are “irredeemable breakdown” or “incompatibility.” The petition also authenticates that the petitioner meets the residency requirement of the jurisdiction. It may include terms for the division of property, spousal and child support, and visitation. In some places, both spouses can file the divorce petition as part of a summary action.

> The Summons. The summons informs its respondent (who may also be called the defendant) of a scheduled court hearing in which attendance is expected, or gives him or her time to respond the petition. Usually when a party files a divorce petition, he or she also provides a partially completed summons, and the clerk fills in information such as the case number and the date of the hearing. Unless the petition was filed jointly, the filer must serve a copy of the petition and summons served on the other spouse in accordance with the service of process laws of the state.

> The Answer. Normally, the respondent – the party who receives the petition – files answer, which is sometimes called a reply. In the answer, the respondent agrees to the terms of the divorce or contests them. The answer serves to let the court no that he or she has received service and, in the event of a contest, that there is disagreement about the divorce, which must be settled according to the court rules and procedure.

> Financial Disclosures. After an answer is filed, the case may be slated for a variety of hearings. Pending this, both the petitioner and the respondent complete forms detailing individual and joint assets and liabilities, income and expenses. Financial disclosures determine the marital estate and to aid in its division. The format of these forms varies from one jurisdiction to another, but they normally require a variety of papers, such as tax returns, pay stubs, credit card statements and bills. If minor children are involved, even more documents may be required.

> Motion for Temporary Orders. The spouses and their attorneys may begin negotiations with each other, and one may ask the court for temporary rights, such as child custody or alimony, while the action works it way through the courts. This required motions requesting these specific temporary orders. The family law division of the court provides forms for these purposes; a family law attorney can also help draft them.

> Marital Settlement Agreement. Eventually, the couples reach an accord, which is called the marital settlement agreement. This spells out the terms and condition of the division – the division of the marital estate, spousal and child support and visitation. The marital settlement agreement is the agreement between spouses and becomes a court order. The court may have a form for this document, or it can be drafted separately.

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