Joint Petitions for Dissolution of Marriages

by Beverly Bird
Joint petitions usually go hand in hand with signed marital settlement agreements.

Joint petitions usually go hand in hand with signed marital settlement agreements.

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Not all states allow spouses to file joint petitions to end their marriages. Among those that do, different requirements apply. In some states, you can only do so in simplified or summary proceedings – essentially a shortcut to divorce that streamlines and hastens the process if you qualify. In other states, the only requirement is that you and your spouse agree that you're going to end your marriage and how you're going to do so.

The Joint Petition

Filing a joint petition for dissolution requires that both you and your spouse agree to its contents. Both of you must sign it. You must be in accord regarding basic information, such as your names and that you've met residency requirements in your state, as well as more critical details such as your grounds for divorce and that you don't need the court to address property division, support or custody. Spouses elect their state's no-fault grounds because by filing jointly, they're not disputing who was responsible for ending the marriage. There's no need to serve your spouse with a copy of your petition because you've filed it together.

Simplified Dissolution

Some states, such as Illinois, California and Florida, reserve joint petitions for summery or simplified proceedings. These proceedings are not available to everyone. Generally, your marriage can't be of long duration, you can't have minor children, and you can own only minimal property. For example, in Illinois, you must have been married for less than eight years, and in California, the limit is five years. California caps your marital property at a total value of $38,000, whereas in Illinois, it's $10,000 in equity, not overall value and neither spouse may own any real estate. Florida requires that each spouse waive the right to spousal support. If you qualify, you and your spouse can typically file a joint petition and be divorced shortly thereafter with minimum fuss.

Marital Settlement Agreement

Regardless of whether your dissolution is simplified or follows a more traditional path, filing a joint petition together means you and your spouse have already decided issues of property, support, debts and custody. Most states require that when you file your petition with the court, you must include a copy of a marital settlement or separation agreement, detailing all the terms of your divorce. In some states, such as Montana, you can submit a proposed decree of divorce instead; this document includes the terms of property division and other issues you've agreed on. If your agreement or proposed decree omits any important details, you might be denied a dissolution. For example, if your documents are incomplete, Ohio requires that you file a complaint for divorce instead, and you must do so on your own, not jointly with your spouse.

Court Appearance

Some states don't require that you appear in court to end your marriage if you and your spouse file jointly, but the rules vary. For example, you don't have to attend a hearing in California, but joint petitions in this state apply only to summary proceedings. In Florida, even though joint petitions are associated with simplified divorces, both you and your spouse must appear together in court. Montana gives the option of one or both of you attending a final hearing, whereas in Illinois, you must both attend, even for a simplified dissolution.