The first document filed in a divorce is the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This document states that one or both parties seek to dissolve the marriage; it then lists the legal grounds for the request. One or both parties may sign the petition. If only one party signs the petition, that party must serve the other party with the petition and a summons. If both parties sign the petition, the court deems the parties in agreement and no trial is scheduled. If one party serves a petition and the other party fails to respond within the state statutory time limits, the filing party can submit a signed divorce decree for the approval of the court.
The divorce decree is the formal court order setting forth the terms and conditions ending the marriage. This document is also called a final decree. This document explains how the couple's property will be distributed at the end of their marriage. This includes the terms regarding property division, child support, alimony, child custody and visitation. It can also include any specific instructions pertaining to the raising of the children such as religious preference or location. The county courthouse records office permanently keeps the final divorce decree in its archives.
In an uncontested divorce, the parties agree on the terms for ending their marriage. The parties or their attorneys draft a marital settlement agreement, which sets forth the specific terms of the agreement in detail. This document becomes the divorce decree once it is approved and signed by the judge. Both parties must sign an uncontested divorce decree before submitting it to the divorce court. Once the judge approves and signs the divorce decree, the divorce is final.
Contested divorces occur when the two parties cannot agree on some or all of the issues regarding the finalization of their marriage. In these cases, the issues go to trial and a divorce judge hears evidence. Following the trial, the judge makes a decision and then issues a judgment. The parties then have to wait a period of time before the written divorce decree is issued and signed by the judge. Neither party signs the decree in this case.