What Does a Joint Petition Divorce Mean?

by Victoria McGrath

    Some states allow couples to file joint petitions for divorce, but not all states. A joint petition divorce means the married couple petitions the court for a divorce together. They both sign and file the "joint petition for dissolution of marriage" as a simplified, uncontested or no-fault divorce. They generally agree to proceed with the divorce in a collaborative manner, without major disputes over fault, property division or child custody. Many couples file a settlement agreement with their petition. The judge must review and approve the joint petition and any attached settlement agreement before he enters a divorce decree, or final dissolution of marriage. Court rules on how to file a petition for divorce vary from state to state.

    Joint Petition for Divorce

    A joint petition for divorce allows both parties to apply for a divorce together rather than separately. In divorce petitions that are not joint, one party petitions the court for a divorce while the other party responds to the petition. The spouse who files becomes the petitioner and the other spouse becomes the respondent. When both parties petition the court together, they submit one petition to the court with both of their signatures. The court may require both signatures to be notarized. Both spouses agree to proceed with the divorce without a determination of fault. If disputes arise after the joint petitioners file for divorce together, the judge may order mediation or schedule a trial to resolve them.

    Joint Petition and Uncontested Divorce

    When filing a joint petition for divorce, some states require the couple to simultaneously submit a settlement agreement for uncontested matters. The settlement agreement outlines all of the legal issues relevant to the divorce. These issues generally include division of property, child custody, child support and spousal support. A couple jointly enters into a settlement agreement, either by themselves or with the help of a mediator, shared lawyer or their own individual lawyers. Spouses often employ separate lawyers to advocate on their behalf throughout the divorce proceedings, even in uncontested matters that will not go to trial. Court mediators typically help couples with children resolve disputes over child custody and visitation schedules.

    Joint Petition and Simplified Divorce

    Some states allow you to file for a simplified divorce, also called a summary dissolution. Joint petitions in simplified cases are often done with short-term marriages, marriages without children and marriages with limited assets. These types of marriages can be expedited through the legal process because they have limited legal issues to be resolved during the divorce proceedings. Some state courts accept joint petitions for simplified cases based on certain criteria. For example, a court in one state may consider a joint petition for a simplified divorce when the marriage lasted less than five years while another state may limit such divorces to marriages of less than eight years. Courts often offer fast-track simplified divorces for married couples without dependent children or outstanding financial debt.

    Joint Petition and Waiver of Rights

    Since joint petitioners sign and submit a joint petition for dissolution of marriage together, they waive their rights to service of process, which is when the petitioning party provides his spouse with a copy of the petition. Neither party can later argue they were not aware of the divorce proceedings, especially in states that require both signatures to be notarized. If you sign a settlement agreement and the court approves it as part of the final divorce, those terms are legally binding on both you and your spouse. If you waive spousal support or property rights in the agreement, this may be irreversible, except under extreme circumstances, such as fraud.

    About the Author

    Victoria McGrath pursued both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Theater, Film and Television. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Arizona College of Law. McGrath organized a legal motion bank at the Pima County Public Defender's Office in Arizona. She also worked in the civil division at the Los Angeles Superior Court in California.

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