A divorce typically includes four important legal dates: the date of separation from the other spouse, the date of filing the petition at the courthouse, the date the judge signs the judgment, and the date the court clerk enters the judgment into the court record and provides notice of its entry to both parties. Even after all of these events take place, some states apply a waiting period before the divorce is final -- sometimes six months later.
Date of Separation
The date of separation refers to the date the spouses separated from each other with an intention to end the relationship. A physical separation is when one spouse moved out of the primary residence, out of the state or out of the country, with no plans to return. A separation of joint accounts and the division of marital assets also can indicate a specific date of physical separation. If both spouses temporarily remain in the shared residence, you can file for legal separation at the courthouse. The date of physical or legal separation helps the court determine when the marriage physically ended and financial contributions to community property terminated. For example, both spouses' incomes count as community property or shared income before the marriage ends. After it ends, a spouse keeps his own income as his separate property.
Date of Filing
The date of filing refers to the date one spouse or both spouses file a petition for divorce. If one spouse files for divorce and serves the other spouse with the divorce papers, the other spouse generally has 30 days to file a response. Otherwise, both spouses can file a joint petition together. The date of filing a petition for divorce shows the intention of one or both parties to divorce and initiates the divorce process. The date of filing potentially determines the cutoff date to acquire marital assets or debts. Marital assets and debts generally include the marital home, family car or other shared property acquired during the marriage. Even in uncontested divorces, where spouses file a joint petition with an attached settlement agreement and have no unresolved issues, the court must still approve the settlement agreement and order a dissolution of marriage. Divorce petitions require many additional steps after filing to finalize a divorce.
Date of Judgment
In many cases, the court hears the case, approves any settlement agreement, resolves any contested matters, issues a court order, signs the judgment, enters the judgment and notifies both parties of the entry of judgment before the final dissolution of marriage takes place. The judge signs a judgment that contains the court order for the dissolution of marriage and sets out the terms of the divorce. The marriage terminates on the date the judge signs the judgment for dissolution of marriage. However, the divorce is not final until the court clerk enters the judgment into the court record. The time frame varies depending on the court's case load and type of divorce.
Date of Entry of Judgment
After the judge signs the judgment, the petitioner typically submits it to the court clerk to be processed. The clerk enters the judgement, supporting attachments and a notice of entry of judgment. The clerk date stamps the documents on the date she enters them. Then she mails a copy to each party. Court rules vary from state to state. In some states, the divorce takes effect once the parties receive notice of the entry of judgment. Other states have a waiting period of six months until the divorce becomes final.
Bifurcation of Divorce
In states that allow bifurcation of divorce, the court divides the divorce proceedings into two stages. The court first hears the divorce case and rules on the dissolution of marriage; it resolves other pertinent issues like property division and child custody on another date. Once the court orders the dissolution of marriage, the spouses are legally divorced and free to remarry.