Do Both Parties Have to Sign the Divorce Papers?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Do Both Parties Have to Sign the Divorce Papers?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

In divorce proceedings, there are a series of filings that must be filled out by both parties. Some of these documents require signatures of one or both parties while others do not require the signature of either party.

People sitting on either side of a table with a document on the desk with their hands crossed

Many people are surprised to learn that divorce is a legal process that takes weeks or months, sometimes even years. It is not a single event. As such, there typically no such thing as “the divorce papers" because there are a series of filings that may occur during the process.

Filing the Petition

The beginning of the process starts when a divorce petition, sometimes called a complaint, is filed with the court. The person filing it is called the petitioner. The other party to the marriage is called the respondent.

When a petitioner files the petition or complaint, they must meet certain legal guidelines. These guidelines include establishing the jurisdiction of the court. Additionally, the a grounds for divorce will be included, which, in most states, includes the blanket “irreconcilable differences" declaration. The petition also typically includes a proposal regarding legal and physical custody of any minor children, temporary child support, and temporary alimony, where applicable. This document must be signed by the petitioner, as well as their attorney, if they have one.

Serving the Respondent

This petition must be served on the respondent. This may be accomplished by a process server or the sheriff's office in the respondent's county of residence. Typically, when divorce papers are served, a signature is requested. However, refusing to sign for the documents does not prevent service.

If the respondent cannot be located, service can be accomplished by publication. Each county has rules governing the content of the notice. If a respondent is served by publication, there is nothing to sign.

Filing an Answer

If the respondent does not agree with the proposed divorce petition, they have the opportunity to file an answer. They may present alternate proposals for child custody, child support, or alimony. If the petition alleges grounds such as abandonment or adultery, the respondent may dispute these allegations.

When a respondent files an answer, they may do so on their own or with the assistance of counsel. Before it's filed, the respondent and their attorney, if the respondent is represented, must sign the document. If the respondent does not file an answer, this will not prevent the divorce.

Joint Settlement Agreements

There are two ways a couple may come to a joint settlement agreement. Some couples agree to divorce and agree to the terms in the very beginning of the process. This is called an uncontested divorce. In this instance, the parties may choose to sign and file a joint settlement agreement detailing the terms they have agreed to.

In other cases, the parties may begin the process by filing a petition and an answer. Over time, they themselves, or their lawyers on their behalf, may come to an agreement of terms. In this instance, a joint settlement agreement is filed with the court, detailing the terms. Again, both parties, along with their lawyers, must sign.

When a Divorce Case Doesn't Settle

Sometimes a divorce case just doesn't settle. When this happens, a judge makes a determination about child custody, child support, alimony, division of property, and division of debts. The legal order will then dictate the terms of the divorce. In this instance, neither party needs to sign off. The judge's signature on the order is all that is needed.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.